Disgusting Lunch At Brennen School For Children With Autism Has Parents Fuming

This is just foul!  The Brennen School in the Christina School District is serving kids lunch that I wouldn’t feed to my dog!  A parent sent me a picture of their child’s lunch at the school that serves children with Autism as part of the Delaware Autism Program.  I know Christina is having money woes but come on people!!!!

Brennen Hot Dog

Aside from this shriveled up hot dog, students were served a clementine along with it that day.  Sources tell me teachers are bringing in food for the kids the food is so atrocious.  Hey Christina, just because students have disabilities doesn’t mean you have to serve them sub-standard food.  I have to wonder what year this hot dog was cooked…

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Autism Delaware Gives Clarification On DAP Situation

Autism Delaware released a fact sheet today on the debacle involving the Delaware Department of Education, Christina School District, the Office of Management and Budget, and Governor Carney’s office.  This should answer many questions folks are having based on the Delaware Public Media article as well as my own last night.

If this is how it was supposed to happen, someone dropped the ball big time.  A lot of fingers can be pointed at Christina Superintendent Richard Gregg for failing to notify the district’s Board of Education (which is the governing body for the district and hired him in the first place).  As well, Governor Carney’s administration goofed big time by not putting certain funding for training personnel in their FY2020 budget proposal.  A lot of this comes down to communication.  We live in the 21st Century where communication is instant.  This kind of stuff shouldn’t happen!

State Rep. Kim Williams wrote the following on Facebook today:

OMB, Controller’s Office and DOE are setting up a meeting with Christina next week. The schools are not changing anything, they will still report to their current district. Teachers and staff will not be affected by any of this. They need to hire the two specialists and those specialists need to report to someone. They need to hire someone to oversee the specialists and the statewide program. The meeting this week will work all those details out.

Thanks to Autism Delaware for getting some facts out on this matter!

State Steals Autism Program From Christina, Students Future In Jeopardy

The State of Delaware stole the Delaware Autism Program from the Christina School District when no one was looking.  With an almost imaginary and very vague loophole in recent legislation, the Delaware Department of Education is now in charge of DAP.  But not so fast… Continue reading

Delaware House Passed Very Important Autism Bill

On Tuesday, the Delaware House of Representatives unanimously passed an Autism bill that will delight many parents and advocates in The First State.

State Representative Earl Jaques released the following statement on the House vote:

The House has unanimously passed my bill to enhance services for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. HB 292 would focus on implementing parent and family input through the enactment of the Parent Advisory Committee, along with additional review boards.

We want to help all students have a quality, inclusive education experience, and this bill will help accomplish that. The hope is to better help children get the Autism services they need in their local communities. The legislation also has the net benefit of creating more educational autism specialist jobs.

This is the synopsis for HB #292:

This Act implements the recommendations of the March 2015 Autism Educational Task Force report regarding § 1332 of Title 14, the Program for Children with Autism and its Special Staff. Enacted nearly three decades ago, this law established a network of educational programs initially within a separate school structure known as The Delaware Autism Program (DAP). Today, this network continues as a combination of both separate school programs and within local school district support services. However, the current model does not reflect current practices in special education, especially regarding inclusive education, and parents’ desire to have their children educated in their local communities. In addition, the increase in students with an educational classification of autism spectrum disorder (“ASD”) has made it difficult for the Statewide Director to provide the level of services and support that once was offered. This Act establishes the qualifications and duties of the Statewide Director and enhances the current mandatory committee structure to include a Parent Advisory Committee, in addition to the Peer Review Committee and Statewide Monitoring Review Board, to increase family input, monitoring, and protections. This Act creates a 3 year pilot program that revises the concept of DAP toward a system in which the statewide Director will work in collaboration with a team of experts to provide technical assistance and training to districts and educational entities. It allows for and provides adequate resources for all students with ASD in Delaware by eliminating the distinction between DAP-approved programs and other in-district options and by providing in-state experts at a lower cost than out-of-state residential treatment and consultants. The pilot program created under this Act makes changes that recognize and support the need for specialized technical assistance and training staff to be available to build capacity for teachers in all districts and other programs educating students with ASD. These changes expand available supports so that excellent, evidence-based training and technical assistance can be made available to all Delaware schools and the students who attend them. The pilot program created under this Act establishes a technical assistance team of educational autism specialists numbering a ratio of 1 for every 100 students (currently estimated at 15 positions). The fiscal mechanism to support the pilot program will be accomplished through mandated district participation that is consistent with the current needs-based funding system in Delaware and by redirecting state spending towards lower cost, community-based supports from out-of-state residential placements. The number of training specialists will be phased in over several years or until the pilot program ends. Finally, this Act is known as “The Alex Eldreth Autism Education Law” in memory Alex Eldreth, who passed away unexpectedly on November 24, 2017, and his dedication to this work.                    

Congrats!  The bill was also released from the Senate Education Committee yesterday.  It has not appeared on the Senate agenda but I anticipate final passage of this bill by June 30th.

Christina School District Salaries Over $100,000

The Christina School District.  They have less administrators than they did four years ago, but they also have over 2,000 less students than they did then.  Much of that can be attributed to the very big charter school growth during that time.  Not only were new charters springing up all over the place, but existing charters expanded their enrollment by adding new grades.  Former Superintendent Freeman Williams resigned in the Fall of 2015 and the district did not get a new Superintendent until the beginning of 2017.  The Delaware DOE and various Delaware Governor’s public education target, Christina has actually come a long way.  Last month they signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Governor Carney and the Delaware Department of Education.  They are taking a strong look at each of their schools, not only in Wilmington but also the Newark/Bear/Glasgow area as well.

I’ve predicted their demise but that was more of a warning shot to them.  Out of all the districts and charters in Delaware, I’ve probably written about them the most.  Which I feel gives me the ability to defend them when the need arises.  The district certainly has their challenges but all districts do.  Christina has some of the highest numbers of low-income and special education students in the entire state.  While they don’t have the highest percentage of low-income students, they have the highest number of students.  And many of those, especially in Wilmington, are students of poverty.  They aren’t the district I’m worried about.  More on that another day.

A very important note about their numbers.  The district itself has 75 administrators making over $100,000.  While that may seem like a lot, they also have over 15,000 students in their district despite the charter explosion in the past decade.  But they also hold special programs in their district, such as the Delaware Autism Program and the Delaware School For The Deaf.  With those programs, the district has 93 administrators making over $100,000.  This is an important distinction which will play out later on.  Four years ago they had 108 administrators hitting the over $100,000 mark.

Continue reading

The Alex Eldreth Autism Education Law Would Bring Big Changes To Delaware Autism Program

It must be education legislation pre-file day today!  State Representative Earl Jaques with a Senate sponsorship by Senator Margaret Rose Henry pre-filed House Bill #292.  This legislation is very similar to the 148th General Assembly’s Senate Bill #92 which failed to get out of the Appropriations Committee due to state budget constraints.  The key difference between HB #292 and SB #92 is the fiscal note was lowered for the new bill.  I love that Alex Eldreth, a longtime advocate for students with Autism in Delaware, is honored with this bill.  Eldreth, from Autism Delaware, passed away in November of 2017.

This Act implements the recommendations of the March 2015 Autism Educational Task Force report regarding § 1332 of Title 14, the Program for Children with Autism and its Special Staff. Enacted nearly three decades ago, this law established a network of educational programs initially within a separate school structure known as The Delaware Autism Program (DAP). Today, this network continues as a combination of both separate school programs and within local school district support services. However, the current model does not reflect current practices in special education, especially regarding inclusive education, and parents’ desire to have their children educated in their local communities. In addition, the increase in students with an educational classification of autism spectrum disorder (“ASD”) has made it difficult for the Statewide Director to provide the level of services and support that once was offered. This Act establishes the qualifications and duties of the Statewide Director and enhances the current mandatory committee structure to include a Parent Advisory Committee, in addition to the Peer Review Committee and Statewide Monitoring Review Board, to increase family input, monitoring, and protections. This Act creates a 3 year pilot program that revises the concept of DAP toward a system in which the statewide Director will work in collaboration with a team of experts to provide technical assistance and training to districts and educational entities. It allows for and provides adequate resources for all students with ASD in Delaware by eliminating the distinction between DAP-approved programs and other in-district options and by providing in-state experts at a lower cost than out-of-state residential treatment and consultants. The pilot program created under this Act makes changes that recognize and support the need for specialized technical assistance and training staff to be available to build capacity for teachers in all districts and other programs educating students with ASD. These changes expand available supports so that excellent, evidence-based training and technical assistance can be made available to all Delaware schools and the students who attend them. The pilot program created under this Act establishes a technical assistance team of educational autism specialists numbering a ratio of 1 for every 100 students (currently estimated at 15 positions). The fiscal mechanism to support the pilot program will be accomplished through mandated district participation that is consistent with the current needs-based funding system in Delaware and by redirecting state spending towards lower cost, community-based supports from out-of-state residential placements. The number of training specialists will be phased in over several years or until the pilot program ends. Finally, this Act is known as “The Alex Eldreth Autism Education Law” in memory Alex Eldreth, who passed away unexpectedly on November 24, 2017, and his dedication to this work.
To read the full legislation, please go here.

Christina Superintendent Freeman Williams Submits Retirement Letter

The on-leave Superintendent of the Christina School District, Freeman Williams, submitted a retirement letter to the district effective February, 2016.  In August, Williams went on a leave status which prompted the Christina Board of Education to hire an Acting Superintendent.  Former Red Clay Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski is the current Acting Superintendent, but Christina’s Board must now look for a new and permanent Superintendent.

The first time I met Freeman was 13 months ago at a special board meeting at Christina surrounding the priority schools.  I found him to be very cordial and respectful, and he was greatly concerned about the priority status designated to the three Christina schools.  I attended quite a few Christina board meetings in the next five months and watched them systematically and efficiently hold back the Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell from making rash and hasty decisions over the Christina priority schools.

The last time I saw Freeman was at the Imagine Delaware Forum back in March.  I had a very pleasant discussion with him concerning House Bill 50 and parent opt-out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which he supported.  Whatever his reason for retirement, I wish him the best and I hope he enjoys his time away from the crazy education environment we live in.

As Christina will assuredly attempt another referendum in 2016 amidst severe financial issues, the search will be on for a new Superintendent.  This district needs a very strong leader who can rally the people in favor of Christina.  While some think Christina may wind up in receivership by the end of the year, I would prefer to have hope.  The long-term impact of charters has definitely siphoned off a great deal of local funding due to many of the students in Christina’s feeder pattern choicing out to charters, and the emergence of so many new charters in Wilmington this school year alone has definitely had a negative effect.  Now is the time for Christina to strongly promote their strengths and eliminate their weaknesses.  What many don’t realize is Christina also holds the Delaware Autism Program and the Delaware School for the Deaf.  That could cause tremendous problems for the students involved if they have to transition out of the existing programs.

Big Changes Coming For Delaware Autism Program (DAP) With Senate Bill 92

SenateBill92

Delaware Senator Margaret-Rose Henry introduced Senate Bill 92 today, and it could mean huge changes for the Delaware Autism Program (DAP).  Citing an increase in reported Autism diagnoses in Delaware of 900%, this much-needed legislation will give extra supports and services these children desperately need.  From the official press release given today at Legislative Hall in Dover:

Lawmakers and stakeholders held a press conference Tuesday afternoon announcing legislation that would realign the state’s educational model for students diagnosed with autism by adding services allowing them to be educated in their home schools. The legislation also would create a panel to monitor the latest developments in educating students with autism spectrum disorders and craft policy reflecting those changes.

Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington South, who co-chaired the Autism Education Task Force with Rep. Earl Jaques, said there was a pressing need for the changes.

“When you look at the sheer numbers, our population of students diagnosed on the autism spectrum has exploded,” she said. “There’s a need to modernize our policies for these students and ensure we’re equipping their teachers, families and the agencies who assist them, with the best possible information.”

Currently, there are about 1,500 students diagnosed with autism in Delaware’s public schools. That’s up nearly 900 percent over the 152 students diagnosed with autism in 1992, when an initial statewide autism program was first established.

Please read the proposed legislation below:

And as I reported earlier, only it didn’t have a bill number attached to it yet, Senate Bill 93, creating the Delaware Interagency Committee for Autism and the Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism:

Central DE School Of The Arts For The Exceptional: New Charter School for High-Functioning Autism in Kent County? @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @Apl_Jax @RCEAPrez @ecpaige @nannyfat @DelawareBats @DeDeptofEd #netde #eduDE #edchat #Delaware

I was on Facebook and noticed a page by a proposed charter school called Central DE School Of The Arts For The Exceptional.  I went to their page, and found the following:

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Charter school offering fine and performing arts curriculum, plus specialized programming for students with high functioning autism. Program will include education and related services from qualified educators and clinicians from a team approach in a true inclusive environment. Related services will also include family and peer training, as well as sibshops for siblings of students on the spectrum, which will foster growth in every student both in school and outside of school.

So we had our first official Board Meeting yesterday and I have to say thank you to our members who were able to make it. We are in the process of revising our bylaws so we can submit our application for nonprofit status…lots of great feedback was given and I cant wait to finish this part and move forward on the fun stuff!

Looked at their curriculum and it looks like like we’ll be modeling a lot of it at our school school! ABA isn’t just for autism, which is why it’s so successful. Just one -very large- piece off the puzzle.  http://blog.theautismsite.com/new-arizona-autism-charter-school/?utm_source=social

The holidays are quickly approaching and there is so much to do! How will you be spending your holidays? If you are looking for a way to get involved, please message me!   We are currently looking for 1-3 board members who are willing to get involved, are passionate about inclusive education, and who want to offer a new, innovate way to broaden Kent County’s horizons. Join us in making a difference for our community!

Now this is actually a charter school, if done right, I could support.  While my views against charters are well-known, I do find schools like Positive Outcomes and Gateway are very beneficial for students in Delaware.  What makes schools like this stand out is the enrollment preference is a given: students with disabilities.  To be able to attend, you would have to fit this criteria.  There is no smokescreen, or confusing wording.  It is what it is.

I did a Google search on the proposed school, and I found the person trying to get this school going, Tyler Anaya.  She worked for Autism Delaware recently.  I do have some questions about this.  Who is already on the board?  Where is a proposed location?  Would they be working with the Delaware Autism Program?  (who I have heard is running out of funding at a massive rate)  Is this school exclusively for children on the Autism spectrum, or would other students with disabilities that are high-functioning status be able to attend?  I would have to think the funding for a school of this sort would have to be very large given the services these children would need.  I will certainly be reaching out to Tyler Anaya to get more information.

How Many Complex Special Needs Children Did Delaware Ship Out Of State In Fiscal Year 2014? #netde #eduDE @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de

Last month, I did a long article on the Interagency Collaborative Team (ICT). This team decides where to place the most severely complex special needs children into a residential setting. More information from the original article can be read here: https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/category/delaware-special-education/

At that time, I did not have the numbers of students placed in residential treatment centers for the 2013-2014 school year. However, Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Childrens Group at the Delaware Department of Education, provided this information to me.

In fiscal year 2014, 134 students came before the ICT. Out of those, 57 students were placed in residential treatment centers. Out of the 57, 39 students were placed out of state. This is an average of 62.7%. In fiscal year 2013, the average was 62.8%. If there are more students, and Delaware can only fit so many, why would the average be almost exactly the same? Advoserv had 17 Delaware student placements in 2013, and 19 in 2014. Did they add more room? As I indicated in my previous article, the ratios between those served in state and those served out of state has remained very close for the past 5-6 years.

Information I was not able to obtain was out of the 77 remaining students, how many were placed in day schools like High Roads.

In fiscal year 2013 as well, 32 students were placed in out of state treatment centers. With an increase of only 7 students in the next fiscal year, the costs for these out of state treatment centers skyrocketed this year. I went over the figures in the prior article mentioned above, but between fiscal years 2013 and 2014, the costs for these schools (both residential treatment centers and day schools) went up well over $4 million dollars.

I submitted an FOIA request to the Delaware DOE for the service contracts between the residential treatment centers and the state of Delaware, but the public information office for the DOE, Alison May, informed me the school districts have the contracts with these centers, not the state. Yet 70% of the funding for these centers are coming from the State run DOE, and 30% from the school districts. Why would they not have access to these contracts?

What is even more astonishing is the rise in funding received by the Devereux Foundation between fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Factoring in the 30% the local school districts kicked in for fiscal year 2013, the amount was roughly $920,910.00 but in fiscal year 2014 that amount was $2,473,163.00. An increase of over $1.5 million dollars. All of the other residential treatment centers increased as well, but Devereux’ increase is very dramatic. Is it a question of capacity for Advoserv in Delaware as well as the other out of state residential treatment centers? Or is there something more to it?

The Delaware Autism Program (DAP) is the only state-wide autism program of it’s sort in the country. The Statewide Director for DAP is Vincent Winterling. He accepted that position in 2009. As per the Devereux website, Winterling was “Former National Coordinator, Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Former Director, Devereux Institute of Clinical Training & Research (ICTR) Consultants. Is there a connection between the rise in Devereux Foundation placements coming from Delaware and the head of the autism program in Delaware having very close ties with the organization?

I would have to imagine going from such prestigious positions with Devereux to a state paid position would have to result in a very large pay cut. But LinkedIn shows he also holds positions at A-B-C Consultants as Associate Director and Director of Vincent Winterling, Ed.D., LLC. All three of his current positions have been held since 2009, the same year he left Devereux after 19 years of employment there. No information was found for why Winterling left Devereux. In the years since he left Devereux, many school boards across Pennsylvania and New Jersey have hired Winterling for consulting services for special needs children.

In the fall of 2010, there was statewide concern about shutting down some of the residential group homes servicing autistic children within Delaware. On October 1st of that year, the News Journal published an article about the situation, and the journalist covering the story wrote: “Winterling, who declined to be interviewed for this story, said in an August interview with The News Journal that the homes should be closed and children in need of these services should be sent elsewhere. This would mean these children would be sent to neighboring states, with Delaware absorbing costs of $150,000 to $200,000 per child a year.”

Meanwhile, questions have risen amongst many school districts about what they actually paying for. In an article written by Melissa Steele for the Cape Gazette on August 16, 2013, she wrote “While all children are entitled by law to a free and appropriate public education, the high cost of residential care raises questions. What services are special needs children receiving in return for tuition costs? Who evaluates the cost of services, and who determines whether the services are effective? Months of effort to uncover answers to these questions have failed to produce any understanding of these costs. Repeated efforts to access facilities that accept taxpayer money or obtain information about services students receive have been met with refusals on grounds that providing this information would violate student privacy.”

I will be doing even more research into this subject in the future. If anyone has any information about the Interagency Collaborative Team, Devereux Foundation, Vincent Winterling or the other residential treatment centers Delaware sends these kids to, please email me at the address provided in the About Me section of this blog. In the meantime, it looks like the IEP Task Force, created through Senate Concurring Resolution 63, is set to begin meeting this month. One of the mandates of the resolution states the DOE and school districts must provide any information requested. Maybe the task force will be able to get more answers on this expensive, puzzling mystery.