Breaking News: Major Shake-Up At Delaware DOE

And the revolving door keeps swinging.  Two longtime Delaware Department of Education mainstays are leaving and one was kind of sort of switched to a new role. Continue reading “Breaking News: Major Shake-Up At Delaware DOE”

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The Exceptional Delaware Hero Of The Year 2017: Laurie Howard

I normally wait to release this until the last day of the year, but this year’s hero demanded the honor sooner.  You see, Laurie Howard passed away.  Surrounded by her loved ones, she left us far too soon.  Laurie was many things: a mother, a wife, a teacher, and a friend.

I’ve known Laurie for almost three years.  I met her through this blog.  A teacher in Caesar Rodney School District, Laurie and I were in fierce agreement on many things.  That standardized testing in the form of the Smarter Balanced Assessment is wrong.  That every single parent has a fundamental right to opt their child out of that test.  That corporations are slowly taking over public schools and school districts are powerless to stop it.

Laurie even had her own short-lived blog but only a select few were aware it was her.  Back in 2015, Laurie launched a blog where she challenged the Delaware State Education Association to fervently support House Bill 50.  She called out DSEA leadership for their sheepish support of the legislation.  The blog did not last long as Laurie was terrified of being found out and terminated from her job as a teacher.  But it had an impact.  From accounts I heard, Jenner was very upset about Laurie’s blog posts.  But Laurie felt strongly the teacher’s union was in bed with the privateers in public education.  At least their leadership was. I loved that blog and I wish Laurie had been able to continue it but I completely understand her reasoning to end it abruptly.  Many assumed they knew who wrote that blog but they were wrong. It was a secret that I carried to her grave. But I know she would not mind having this knowledge out now. To me, it was one of her many legacies. My only regret is not saving her articles for posterity and remembrance.  When Laurie shut down the blog she deleted all of the posts.

Laurie joined the Delaware Parent Teacher Association in 2015 so she could be in a position to advocate to a wider audience. She was well aware and did research on the corporate education reform movement and the dangers it posed in our public schools.  One of her articles focused on how PISA was a misused test. One of her biggest worries was the growing amount of tracking going on with students.  She felt, and I agree, that schools have become more about diagnosing students than educating them.  She did not like the feds controlling education and thought they should stick their noses out of local control.

In 2016, Laurie started another blog in an attempt to save the Schwartz Center for the arts in Dover.  She was a fervent supporter of theater and the arts.  I wished she had won that fight as well.

Last Spring, Laurie was diagnosed with lung cancer.  She was already set to retire at the end of the 2016-2017 school year.  I had the honor of attending her retirement party at the Schwartz Center in Dover.  She was happy and humbled by so many of her peers and friends celebrating her time as a Delaware educator.

I talked to Laurie over the summer, mostly on social media.  She was scared.  She didn’t want to leave.  But she didn’t want the world to see this.  I did my best to not talk about education matters because I wanted the borrowed time I spent with her to be about her and to see if she needed anything.  On her Facebook page, she talked about how beautiful this world is and she put on a brave face.  In the past few weeks, Laurie put this up on her account:

Okay, time is getting mighty precious lately. I’ve been brought to the Delaware Hospice Center in Milford. My hope is that the awesome care I’ve received the past two days here will provide for extended life opportunities with my friends and family! I was asked to help my friends figure out what to say or do as a result of this stay. Just know if I’m your FB friend, we are friends. I love you, I care about you and your family. You don’t have to send expressions of love and longtime friendships (unless you want too). My love and best wishes for a long and healthy life are sent without question. Love to all!

Laurie’s post was just who she was.  A couple of years ago, Laurie was able to answer a question for me.  One that haunted my soul for a long time.  It was purely coincidental, and while I won’t get into the question, it did give me understanding and comfort about someone.  For the longest time, I thought this person was evil incarnate but Laurie urged me to forgive this person.  And I did.  That’s who she was.

Together with our friend Natalie, we would haunt meetings in Dover.  Especially the Assessment Inventory Committee and meetings about the opt out bill.  We would give public comment about how bad the testing was and how it wasn’t right for Delaware children.  Laurie’s struggles with students in the classroom over this test are very similar throughout the state.  My only wish was that Laurie would have been able to use her voice at its full force because it was a voice worth hearing. I will miss you Laurie Howard. I find comfort that you are watching over all of us and I pray that you can impart your wisdom to those who think education is a financial playground. I know Laurie would want me to keep fighting the fight, and I will, the best I can.  May you rest in peace my sweet friend.

State Audit Inspection On School District Expenditures For FY2016 Is Ridiculous!

By Delaware state code, we should be seeing this report every single year.  In any event, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the Fiscal Year 2016 report today.  Yes, a year and a half after that fiscal year ended.  And guess what the overall finding was?  We don’t know what districts are spending cause everyone codes their expenses differently in the state financial system.  And this report states the state ALLOWS the districts to do this.  They have discretion.  What a crock of…

In an attempt to categorize spending items as instructional or non-instructional for further analysis, the Office of Auditor of Accounts (AOA) extracted all voucher and PCard expenditures made from State and local funds by each of the 19 school districts.  However, the State’s financial system has over 11,000 active appropriations and over 1,500 active account codes available for use.  As a result, we found inconsistencies in expenditure coding across the 19 school districts that prevented us from performing an in-depth analysis of expenditures.

They named nine areas that are either prohibited by accounting rules or were not used for a functional educational purpose.  Some of these are sports lottery, florists, online games, and table games.  Are you kidding me?  And the report found over $98,000 was used for in-state meals.  I can picture it now, Joe Superintendent says to himself “I feel like going to Friendly’s for lunch today”.  This is absolutely ridiculous.  The inspection found that many of these “inconsistencies” were due to human error.  Uh-huh.  Yes, I get that humans make errors.  But how do you miscode sticky buns?

When it comes to food, it looks like Cape Henlopen and Lake Forest looooove to eat out! The report talks about WaWa purchases. I’m sorry, but since when is fast food or deli considered an in-state food purchase? Do what the rest of us do and pay from your own damn wallet. I don’t pay taxes so you can celebrate Hoagiefest all year long!

But this little bit about Lake Forest…wow!

In December 2015, the Lake Forest School District held a holiday dinner for board members, administrators, and their spouses at The Rookery Golf Club in Milford, Delaware, totaling $1,899.30. (This amount is included in the in-State meal transactions described above in the “Employee Recognition purposes” category since administrators were recognized.) A handwritten note on the invoice stated it was approved at a special board meeting in executive session on October 14, 2015.

Are you friggin’ kidding me? Sounds like higher-ups are feasting on the fatted calf called the Delaware accounting system. And with no oversight whatsoever, this is only scratching the iceberg.

And how in the name of God can you have in-state lodging for any school district in this state? You can drive up and down the state in less than two hours. And it looks like Red Clay was the biggest offender.

Not one look into all the vendors school districts use. Not one peak into the millions of dollars going to vendors who write reports and supply schools with cash-in-the-trash ideas. Not one bit. Disgusting. It’s no wonder none of the school districts want to consolidate. God forbid someone actually get a good hard look into how they spend money!

The best part about all this?  They could have read my blog posts in July and August of 2016 to do this report.  What the hell took them a year and a half to do a report that anyone with an excel file could figure out in three days? It is time for our elected legislators to get the hell off their collective asses and pass some laws indicating school districts and charter schools can NO LONGER use discretion when submitting their expenditures to the state. This is a third of their budget and they are given carte blanche to do pretty much whatever the hell they want. Sure, most of it is most likely legit but when your own state auditor can’t make heads or tails of where well over $1 billion dollars is going, I have some major issues with that. This is unacceptable and it will no longer be tolerated. I don’t care how much time I have to spend at Legislative Hall in 2018 to drum this into their heads. When education loses tons of money each year but we have wine and dine events at the local country club, that is absurd. This is EXACTLY what I wanted to talk to John Carney about after he was elected. But he had to go and blow me off. Big mistake. It’s not like I didn’t warn people this was going on. They just didn’t want to hear it. Carney just wanted to set up his self-destruct mechanisms for Delaware education, just like his predecessor. And as he sets off on his warped plan to charterize Wilmington schools, he could care less about where the money is going.

Delaware legislators: Cut the crap. I don’t want to hear your whining and complaining come next June about the budget and how you are doing everything you can. Change some laws. Make crap accountable and stop kissing asses all over the state. Do your job! The jig is up. I don’t necessarily blame the auditor’s office for all this. They inspect what they are able to. It is our General Assembly that needs to wake the hell up. You have allowed this scenario to happen. You have allowed this “discretion” that makes a Rubik’s Cube in a three-year-old’s hands look easy compared to the hot mess called First State Financials. No more excuses. Pass legislation demanding that every single expenditure be coded in a uniform way among ALL school districts and charter schools. And yes, charter schools should have been included in this report as well. But no way in hell would that happen because this report would have found a lot more “inconsistencies” and we all know it. But the General Assembly as a whole likes to protect and coddle them. Exactly what is wrong with Delaware education. If I sound pissed off, it’s cause I am. And every single taxpayer in this state should be ticked off as well.

To read this obscenity where money is unaccountable and untrackable and uncrackable and takes money away from where it is truly needed, please read below.

Kowalko Picks Apart Carney’s Not So Legal Christina-Wilmington Plan

Last night, the Christina Board of Education voted 5-2 to push back Delaware Governor John Carney’s consolidation plan for Christina’s Wilmington students until the 2019-2020 school year. They felt the initiative would need more time. The no votes belonged to board members George Evans and Fred Polaski. State Rep. John Kowalko gave public comment concerning the plan. To say he was not in favor would be an understatement. Kowalko brought up many good points which the Governor and the Delaware DOE ought to consider.

I and 9 other legislators attended a meeting called by Governor Carney less than a week ago purportedly to discuss the proposed Wilmington school reform plan and MOU proposal. Since we weren’t given copies of the MOU and it doesn’t seem to be available any longer at the link the Administration provided I cannot offer or challenge some of the specifics. At this meeting the Governor suggested that the MOU draft submitted by DOE would be changed and this board is not bound by it and should draft its own MOU proposal. The deadlines for Board action that the Governor and DOE appear to be imposing are substantively unrealistic and impractical for such a complex consideration with so many unanswerable questions.

Having examined some of the initial proposal and the details and expectations it held has led me to conclude that this is not a well thought out plan, that raises more questions and challenges then it has answers for.

I distributed some of my points of concern to the Governor and DOE and have copies for you that I will distribute. Due to time constraints I will try to focus on only a few of my concerns that I hope you will consider at this time.

I find it particularly harmful and hurtful to the “Southbridge” community, families and children to propose closing Elbert Palmer, one of the true neighborhood schools in walking distance and accessible to this Wilmington community. I hope that this Board’s counter-proposal would support closing that tired old monolith known as Bancroft and refurbish Palmer, Pulaski and Bayard to use for the suggested K-8 reconfiguration.

I also implore this Board to pay heed to the massive costs (which the Governor personally refused to speculate on) in refurbishing or renovating in order to make these consolidations. You should be acutely aware that any promise of funding cannot be guaranteed. In fact I would urge you to recall this Administration’s recently passed budget with concurrence of this current General Assembly cut traditional public school revenues by more than $36 million. Restoring that $36 million in cuts and adding even a small percentage of the proposed renovation costs would be much more beneficial and effective for Wilmington students if allocated to create smaller classroom ratios and hire reading and math specialists.

As I’ve looked at this reform proposal and its details and drawing upon my 11 years of experience as a legislator I am forced to conclude that this is a no-win situation for Christina, this Board and the children of Wilmington. Its predisposition to fail will be used to scapegoat the district and further stifle opportunities for Wilmington students and their families.

Finally I would suggest that this Board consider that traditional public school funding has received reduced funding since 2009 now totaling over $65 million per year. Ask the DOE and Governor:

Who is going to pay for the renovations?

Who is paying for longer school days and school years?

Who is paying for vacation academies?

Who is paying for after-school programs?

And why aren’t Reading Specialists and funding for them part of this plan?

At this point, Kowalko had several questions for Governor Carney as well:

1) If CSD does not approve MOU, more money will be taken from the District further harming prospects of Wilmington students and families. (“If it rejects the plan and fails to come up with an acceptable alternative, the agreement would be terminated immediately, resulting in the loss of any additional financial support for the district”).
2) Bayard/Bancroft are not appropriate buildings for little children even if renovated. Bancroft too old to make usable with renovations.
3) Trauma Training not necessarily (research?) effective but investing/funding 1 to 15 class size ratios would effectively improve the learning environment and outcomes.
4) Palmer became the first equity lawsuit in Delaware when Christina District (at Lowery’s behest) tried to close it 10 years ago.
5) Leaves no “Neighborhood Schools” for city children and in fact may violate the “Neighborhood Schools Legislation”.
6) Bancroft is far away from Palmer and Southbridge children who now walk would be unable to continue that practice.
7) Distinguish more specifically between renovate, refurbish and reconfiguration.
8) Why don’t we do things like “successful” districts? The most successful programs such as in New York and Massachusetts fund “reading specialists” and lower class ratios.
9) When the plan refers to “potentially” establishing “early childhood education” and “centers for students and families learning English” at a vacated Palmer are the planners aware that there are no ESL students at Palmer?
10) Have you considered neighborhood “gangs” being integrated from across Wilmington into the same building?
11) The suggested “Co-leadership” model re: principals and assistant principals belies the reality that these two jobs have never had the same duties and have always had designated responsibilities and functions.
12) “Loan forgiveness stipend” to young and “inexperienced” teachers does not reflect any benefit to already established teachers who have devoted their careers to inner-city education and “Who” is paying for these loans?
13) “Who” is paying for “longer school days/year”?
14) “Who is paying for “vacation academies”?
15) “Who is paying for “after-school programing”?
16) Why aren’t reading specialists part of this plan and therefore WHO IS PAYING FOR “READING SPECIALISTS” SO THAT CHILDREN ACTUALLY LEARN TO READ?

These are all valid questions that deserve answers. One of my biggest questions is why the Delaware Department of Education did not include this in their presentation to the Office of Management and Budget for the Fiscal Year 2019 budget a couple of weeks ago. Where is all this money coming from? The Christina Board of Education will vote on the plan again next Tuesday at their monthly board meeting. Revisions will supposedly go back and forth until February of 2018 which is Governor Carney’s deadline for the decision.

17 Who Made An Impact In 2017: The Providence Creek “We’re Worried” Crew

Last Spring, a bunch of teachers and staff at Providence Creek Academy assembled to voice concerns about working conditions at Providence Creek Academy. They had some definite beefs with the way things were run, especially with the Principal and the Head of School. Ultimately, they brought their concerns to the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education. While the DOE was unable to substantiate their claims, they initiated an important question: should charter school teachers be unionized?

Over Labor Day, they contacted me indicating they had enough votes to be able to join the Delaware State Education Association. Last month, they emailed me they no longer had those votes. But I always saluted their courage and bravery in their attempt. They never contacted me individually, always as a group. To this day, I could not tell you one member of the group. They had a very legitimate fear that if they did announce their names they would have been terminated from the school. I can’t blame them one bit for feeling that way. Delaware is an at will state and without union representation, charter school teachers can be terminated for pretty much any reason. Whether it is justified or not. And speaking up about a hostile working environment can be very dangerous. I truly wish we lived in a world where any teacher could use their voice without that fear, but that is not the world we live in unfortunately.

At the very least, I hope some of those situations at Providence Creek Academy did change for the teachers and staff. Whether it is one voice or half their staff, no one should have to live with fear is as their top concern.

Academia Antonia Alonso, Early College H.S., First State Montessori, Sussex Academy and Thomas Edison All Get Renewal Recommendations But One Has Serious Conditions

All five of the Delaware charter schools have received renewal recommendations from the Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC). The State Board of Education will decide if they agree at their December 14th meeting. Anyone wishing to submit formal public comment must do so by December 8th. Everything looks good for these charters except for one of them. Which one? Continue reading “Academia Antonia Alonso, Early College H.S., First State Montessori, Sussex Academy and Thomas Edison All Get Renewal Recommendations But One Has Serious Conditions”

Is Regulation 225 A Union-Busting Measure? Know When You Are Being Used!

Ever since Regulation 225 hit the Delaware Registrar of Regulations, I’ve been scratching my head over it. I’ve gone back and forth on it a few dozen times. To be crystal clear, I support any anti-discrimination measure for ANY student. No questions asked. Some of the Facebook comments I’ve seen from some who oppose the bill are filled with hate and misunderstanding. I’ve wondered what the purpose behind all this was, and today I may have received an answer. Continue reading “Is Regulation 225 A Union-Busting Measure? Know When You Are Being Used!”

Breaking News: Major “Retirement” At Delaware DOE

One of the big heads at the Delaware Department of Education is retiring. Which one? Continue reading “Breaking News: Major “Retirement” At Delaware DOE”

18 Who Will Make An Impact In 2018: Herbert Sheldon & The Board

What? Who in the world is Herbert Sheldon? Who is the Board? While you may not know this name right now unless you are very involved in Delaware education, you soon will. Why? Continue reading “18 Who Will Make An Impact In 2018: Herbert Sheldon & The Board”

Top Ten Reasons Not To Trust Delaware Governor John Carney

Delaware Governor John Carney hasn’t even been in his job a year and already he has managed to irk me more than former Governor Jack Markell.  Why?  Many reasons. Continue reading “Top Ten Reasons Not To Trust Delaware Governor John Carney”

WEIC Gets Stuck On A FOIA Technicality While Christina And Carney Scheme To Close Schools

I’d heard the rumor.  The five Wilmington schools serving Christina students would fold into two.  It was only a rumor until today when the News Journal published details of a confidential memorandum of understanding between the district and Governor Carney. Meanwhile, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, which has outlived its usefulness as of late, decided to hold an impromptu meeting while breaking state FOIA open meeting laws.

As per Jessica Bies’ News Journal article:

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, a state advisory committee formed by then-Gov. Jack Markell to come up with ideas to improve education in the city, was also scheduled to review Carney’s proposal Tuesday night. It did not publicly advertise the meeting in compliance with state law or post the agenda for the meeting until late Monday, after a News Journal reporter called and asked when it would be shared.

As per a source, this WEIC meeting was planned six weeks ago and the Mayor of Wilmington came to speak.  A technicality of not posting the agenda in the required seven day window occurred.  When Tony Allen arrived at the meeting, he advised the committee of the technicality and that no action would be taken at the meeting, including approving the minutes for the last meeting.  While I have seen time and time again in FOIA complaints that a party forgot to post an agenda, it is my belief, even if a meeting is planned and they decide to only hold it for informational purposes, they should delay the meeting for appearances sake.  How confidential is this memo if so many people had access to it before the Christina Board of Education even has it? Sounds like Carney and Christina want it to get out. I’ve heard people rambling for years that Christina needs to consolidate some of their schools but the way this happened is shady at best.

If Carney’s office released the document, it doesn’t sound like Superintendent Richard Gregg was too happy about it:

Superintendent Richard Gregg recommended removing the names of schools from the document before it came to the school board for the vote, and there was a discussion about having the governor refrain from using the schools’ names in public.

Who were the three school board members who met with district staff, Carney’s team, and the union representative? Why doesn’t the News Journal name those board members? And where is all the scoop on the Empowerment crap Carney is trying to foist upon the schools? More questions than answers. And the Delaware DOE is going to be the one to implement all these changes? Has Christina lost their ever-loving mind? But this is the part that scares the living hell out of me:

The memorandum says Carney and the state Education Department would ask the General Assembly for additional funding to renovate the schools, as well as provide trauma-informed training to principals and teachers. It also promises funding for a dual-generation education center, as well as “philanthropic monies to support all Wilmington schools,” starting with those in Christina.

Philanthropic monies… and what will they want in return? This is the beginning of the end of public education. Once you get foundations actually funding schools (they already help fund charter schools), these schools are no longer public. They become part of Carney’s “public-private partnerships” where FOIA and open meeting laws go out the window. You heard it here first. Carney is just continuing Markell’s agenda who was following all the corporate education reform crap. At this point, I can no longer refer to Carney as Markell 2.0. He is Carney, through and through. Selling out schools to corporations. This is so deliberate and in your face. He played Christina and their board like a fiddle. This is when we start to see social impact bonds hit Delaware. And Rodel is loving every second of it with their competency-based education and personalized digital learning crap. I won’t go so far as to say Carney is the devil, but he is certainly his willing accomplice and Secretary Bunting is just playing the part of the yes-woman and kissing King Carney’s ring he wears for whichever level of Dante’s Hell he serves. I can see why Carney picked her now. She will do whatever he wants.

When I attended the very first WEIC meeting, I advised them transparency is the glue to whatever they do.  While I recognize human error, there is also accountability for recognizing that and taking the appropriate action.  Not go ahead and hold the meeting anyway.  The only way we can stop people from violating FOIA law is to call them out on it.  I have made it my mission to do so for over three years now.  I will not hold back on that for any organization that is subject to FOIA law.

I hope Carney locked the General Assembly into funding this hot mess, otherwise it becomes yet another unfunded mandate in Delaware.  I’m sure deals have been made behind the scenes.  If not, the philanthropic foundations like Rodel and the other vultures waiting to pounce on public education will assuredly send their lobbyists to hound them for the next seven months.

Which Delaware Charter School WILL Go Under Formal Review Soon?

This is a definite.  It IS going to happen.  A Delaware charter school will be going under formal review, most likely in 2018.  Why?  A multitude of reasons.  While I’m not ready to reveal which one at this point in time, you will know it when you see it.  You may think you know which one, but you could be wrong.

There haven’t been any formal reviews since the 2015-2016 school year when both Delaware MET and Delaware STEM Academy went under the Delaware DOE knife.  Neither came out alive when it was all said and done.  Since then, the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE has come under new leadership with Denise Stouffer.  From what I understand, there are circumstances going on at this charter school that can no longer be ignored.  Will this charter school come out alive?  Smart money says nope unless something radical changes very soon.

Put your guessing caps on.

Ex Academy Of Dover Chief Noel Rodriguez Pleads Guilty In Theft Of $145,000

What would you do with $145,000?  Apparently, for Noel Rodriguez, it was whatever he wanted to do.  But the money wasn’t his.  Today, the former Principal of Academy of Dover pled guilty in the U.S. District Court in Wilmington according to Cris Barrish with WHYY.

Noel Rodriguez, 56, admitted in U.S. District Court in Wilmington that he stole in a number of ways, including charging personal expenses to four unauthorized school credit cards and a state credit card. He spent the money on electronics, travel, car expenses, gardening and camping equipment, home improvement items and a dog house.

According to the article, the newly christened U.S. Attorney, David Weiss, is in charge of Delaware when it comes to federal matters in court.  Rodriguez got a $250,000 fine and will assuredly be facing jail time at his sentencing, up to ten years.  What I would like to know is if part of that $250,000 fine goes back to Academy of Dover.  I think it should.  Taxpayers were robbed by Rodriguez, they deserve to have their tax money go back to what it was allocated for.

The article referenced the State Auditor of Accounts report, conducted by Kathleen Davies in 2014 and 2015.

“A major concern regarding the situation at the [school] is the length of time that passed without any intervention from oversight parties” the school board of directors and auditors, the Department of Education and the Charter School Accountability Committee, the report said.

It is my most fervent hope that all four of those entities know better now and this never happens again in Delaware.

Say, what about Providence Creek Academy?  What is going on with their theft of school funds?  Sean Moore and Tennell Brewington of Family Foundations Academy and now Rodriguez all pled guilty.  What about PCA’s shenanigans?  And the fact that one of the entities Davies slammed in her audit investigation just so happens to have PCA’s Head of School on it?  The good old Charter School Accountability Committee.  Word on the street is Chuck Taylor will be resigning soon and collecting that nice increased pension based on the past three years of service when he came back to rescue the school during the fall of 2014.  Say, is that matter still under investigation?

For Rodriguez, this puts a capper on that shenanigan.  As the article mentioned, Academy of Dover is still open and they actually increased their enrollment this year.

 

Enrollment Count Report for 2017-2018 & Demographic Information For Districts & Charters: The Rise, The Surge, & The Cherry-Picking!

Which districts and charters saw big jumps with student enrollment? Which went down?  What is the state of special education in Delaware?  What key demographic is rising at a fast rate which contributes significantly to the budget woes in our state?  Which charter school, based on their current enrollment, should no longer be considered financially viable and should be shut down?  What is the fastest-growing sub-groups in Delaware?  And which cherry-picking charters continue to not serve certain populations? Continue reading “Enrollment Count Report for 2017-2018 & Demographic Information For Districts & Charters: The Rise, The Surge, & The Cherry-Picking!”

Delaware Politics Explodes With Regulation 225

When Regulation 225 hit the Delaware Registrar of Regulations on November 1st, it sparked a firestorm that will get more controversial by the day.  The regulation is causing a furor among Republican groups.  Legislators are receiving phone calls and emails from constituents who are vehemently opposed to the regulation.  What is the controversy?  Continue reading “Delaware Politics Explodes With Regulation 225”

The Erosion Of Transparency At The Delaware DOE

Even though I’ve done my fair share of beating up on the Delaware Department of Education, I felt they were transparent in a few ways.  Most specifically on their website.  But now I am finding that transparency is evaporating fast.  There are three examples of this, most of which would not be caught by most people.  For a blogger like myself, those three areas contained a lot of information.

The first is their special education section.  For years I would look at their Due Process Hearing and Administrative Complaint decisions.  Each report would name the specific school district or charter school.  Since last Spring, they stopped doing that.  Now it just says “______ school district” or _____ charter school”.  What is the big deal?  Don’t parents of students with disabilities have a right to know what kind of special education complaints are happening at certain schools?

In looking at the above two screenshots from the DOE website, a pattern begins to form.  Last school year, there were three administrative complaints against charter schools in Delaware.  None of them are named.  I don’t need to be a forensic scientist to figure this one out.

The second area involves Department of Education personnel.  As long as I can remember, the Delaware State Board of Education would list changes to DOE personnel on their website as part of their agenda for each meeting.  That stopped a few months ago.  I did reach out to Donna Johnson, Executive Director of the State Board of Education.  She said the State Board does not control personnel at the DOE and they were the only state agency that listed personnel changes.  So it was a matter of consistency.  I get that, but it was also what made the DOE stand out above those other state agencies.  Not to belittle other state agencies, but the DOE is an important one and citizens have a right to know who is leaving or who is hired there.

The third area, which absolutely no one in their right mind would find is a bit tricky.  It involves their search engine.  I learned a few years ago that if you type “PDF” in their search bar it will bring up all PDF documents.  You can even tweak it so the results come up with the most recent documents.  I relied on this to see what was going on at the DOE.  The last PDF document that comes up on the search of most recent is from 5/2/2017.  I highly doubt the DOE is not creating PDF documents anymore.  I know that is the case because I’ve seen them.  But they somehow found a way to eliminate it from their search bar.  Maybe they figured out some crazed blogger from a specific IP address was always using it and disabled it.

It doesn’t shock me that these transparency issues coincide with the new Carney administration.  I, as well as others, have written about a continual lack of transparency coming from the state since Governor John Carney took office.  I guess the people no longer have a right to know.

Tonight

There is so much going on tonight.  First up is the first Town Hall meeting (which I filed a FOIA complaint against the Governor’s Office and Christina School District for a violation of the seven day notice) for the Governor Carney let’s screw with Christina School District one more time.  Second is the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education meeting in which they pick up a new board member and tackle the resolution similar to the Christina resolution on sanctuary schools and all that.  Finally, it is the Capital School District Board of Education meeting.  My son goes to school there again so I have a vested interest in what goes on in their district.  I can’t possibly attend all of them.  So which one am I going to?  Who gets the honor? Continue reading “Tonight”

State Rep. Rich Collins Is Not Digging Gender Expression Regulations

It looks like State Rep. Rich Collins is taking aim at proposed regulations dealing with gender discrimination according to the weekly newsletter from the Republican Caucus of the Delaware House of Representatives.  I felt the need to redline this because there are some points I agree with and some I don’t.

State Lawmaker Says Proposed Education Regulations Could Violate Parental Rights, Spark Lawsuits
A proposed anti-discrimination policy and regulations that could soon be applied to Delaware public schools are raising questions and concerns.
I’m sorry, but how often does Rep. Collins take an active role on education issues in the General Assembly?  How much education legislation has he put forth?  I think this has more to do with transgender issues than potential legality of the Governor’s actions.  Cause if Collins wants to poke holes at legality in state code, I can think of a few dozen issues that need the spotlight more than this.
“It opens Pandora’s Box,” said State Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro.  “It has the potential to twist schools up in knots.”
A little overdramatic there.
The process began in mid-July with the issuance of a brief memorandum from Gov. John Carney to Sec. of Education Susan Bunting.  In the memo, the governor directed the agency to promulgate regulations providing clear guidance to schools “to prohibit unlawful discrimination in educational programs, and activities for students, on the basis of any legally protected characteristic.”
This is Executive Overreach.  Something Carney does very well.  He has been doing this a lot lately. 
The memo set a deadline of November 1st for the proposed rules to be posted in the Delaware Register of Regulations, a needed step preceding implementation.
If you ask me, any regulation should be based on a bill passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor.  No questions asked. 
Four “community conversations” were held — one in each county, and one in the City of Wilmington — to gather public input.
These community conversations are usually poorly attended.  The results of these meetings are predetermined as usual.
State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, attended the Sussex County event last week.  She said the meetings – which all took place between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. over a period of just ten days – were, perhaps intentionally, inconveniently staged for parents to participate.  “They were held when families are collecting students from school activities, having dinner and assisting with homework,” she said.
I like Rep. Briggs King.  But my question would be when is an opportune time?  When parents are at work?  Is after 8pm better when parents are trying to get kids to bed?  I would say sufficient notice and having schools send out robo-calls paid for by the state would work better.  Or hell, have the state send out robo-calls. 
Rep. Collins noted that the forums appeared to have been deliberately engineered to thwart public criticism, with participants broken into small discussion groups, limiting interaction and open debate.
Welcome to DOE 101 Rep. Collins!  This is how they roll.  I’ve been dealing with this kind of nonsense for years.
He added that an online survey form for public feedback on the proposed policy and regulations posed questions that specifically called for participants to provide three things they liked about each but avoided any such pointed solicitation of negative comments.
Once again, we go back to the predetermined thing.  The Delaware DOE will never put “This sucks” as an option!
The draft regulations include “gender identity or expression” among its protected characteristics. 
Among the more controversial aspects of the proposed rules are the following:
  • All students enrolled in a Delaware public school would be able to self-identify gender or race.  (Rule 7.4)

I watch the show Shameless.  In an episode from last year, a character named Carl wanted to get a DNA test to prove he had African-American ancestry so he could get into a military academy.  The white teenager couldn’t get in but the school did have openings for different minorities for 20% of their population.  Even though he did not have any African-American ancestry, he did find out he was 3% Apache so he got in.  Not sure where I’m going with this, but I thought it was kind of funny.  In these episodes dealing with Carl’s situation, another brother named Ian is dating a transgender.  The writers did a great job of conveying some of the issues transgender people go through.  But I digress. 

  • A student would have the opportunity to participate on the sports team that is consistent with the student’s gender identity, regardless of the student’s assigned sex at birth.  (6.4)

I really don’t know how to comment on this one.  I have no issues with gender identity whatsoever.  But calling it “assigned sex”?  Is that a legal term?  I don’t know.

  • A student would have the opportunity to participate in the program of instruction dealing with human sexuality that is consistent with the student’s gender identity, regardless of the student’s assigned sex at birth.  (3.4)

I would think this is appropriate.

  • Regarding physical education programs – goals, objectives and skill development standards could not be designated on the basis of gender.  (5.2)

Why does everything have to be a “standard”?  What happened to the days when kids went to gym to release energy and play basketball or floor hockey? 

  • School districts and charter schools would be required to work with students and families on providing access to locker rooms and bathrooms that correspond to students’ “gender identity or expression.”  (8.1)

What does “work with” mean?  This is a good point.  I’ve seen how schools are “required” to work with parents, but sometimes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

  • Even if a student does not legally change his or her name, he or she can select a “preferred name” based on a “protected characteristic” that school officials would be obligated to use except on official records.  (7.3)

I don’t mind this.  My son’s name is Jacob.  He likes his name.  He doesn’t like to be called “Jake”.  If he wanted to be called “Bob” in school, I would respect that, as long as he is consistent with it and not changing his “preferred name” every other week.

The proposed regulations direct school districts to establish antidiscrimination policies within 90 days of the rules’ implementation or the start of the next academic year, whichever is earlier.  The policies would be required to contain informal and formal complaint procedures.
A procedure isn’t the same thing as reality.  Just gonna throw that one out there.
“The regulations and policy contain no mention of a student’s age, so I question the wisdom of allowing very young students to make some of these decisions,” Rep. Collins said.  “These proposals also seem to undercut parental authority; giving parents less say in some of these processes then I think is appropriate.”
Then and than mean two different things.  Just saying.  But I kind of agree with Rep. Collin’s point here.  A five-year old making these decisions, without parental consent, could be a slippery slope.  A thirteen-year old, who is more aware of their body and their wants… that could be a different thing.
State Reps. Collins and Briggs King say the proposed regulations are invalid, noting that “gender identity or expression” is not a legally protected classification under the Delaware Code covering public education.
Then perhaps Reps. Collins and Briggs King should write legislation which would put it as a legally protected classification.
Delaware’s Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act of 2013 — which forbids discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing, employment, public works contracting, public accommodations, and insurance – added new language to seven titles of the state code.  However, those changes were not applied to Title 14, which covers public education.
See above.
“Neither the proposed regulation nor the model policy document, are legitimate because they are not based on any legal authority granted by the General Assembly,” Rep. Collins said.
That’s because Carney wants to circumvent the General Assembly whenever possible.  He is becoming very proficient at that.  But the House Republicans had a Carneypalooza in their newsletter this week with pictures of him all over the place. 
Rep. Briggs King points to language in House Joint Resolution 6 – which is still pending action in the Senate – as further proof.  The measure contains a provision explicitly stating that Delaware’s laws on public education do not “prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression.”
Carney likes to flex his gubernatorial muscle.  If he wanted this so bad, he should have done his posturing on June 30th (and July 1st, July 2nd) and gotten the General Assembly to pass a simple Joint Resolution.
Rep. Collins said there has been a rapid push to implement the anti-discrimination regulations, outside the authority of law and escaping the attention of most parents and elected officials.  He said the new rules would produce confusion and likely create additional disputes and lawsuits.
John is all about the rapid push.  Patience is not his strong suit.  The only authority he seems to recognize is his own authority.
In a recent communication to the Department of Education, Rep. Collins urged the agency to delay action to address the growing concerns about the proposals.
How much you want to bet the response will be as empty as Legislative Hall between July and early January?
I am really torn on this one.  Collins offers up some valid points.  The biggest is that Governor Carney once again operated under the guise of Executive Power to do whatever the hell he wants.  He is the most non-transparent Governor in Delaware history.  He is flaunting this power a lot lately.  Much more than Jack Markell did.  It does not bode well for Carney.  I’m sure the DOE, Rodel, and the Delaware Business Roundtable love it though!
I dig into a great deal of education happenings.  I don’t mind any rights of students being clarified.  But there are some parental no-nos in the below draft of the proposed regulations.  I don’t think any educational setting should determine what is best to tell a parent or NOT tell a parent.  Parents have rights when it comes to their children and I can understand the concerns by some parents in feeling those rights are being stripped away.  I don’t see it as a “left-wing liberal snowflake” agenda though.  I see it as an overall concern I have with education policymakers who pretend they want parental engagement but operate behind the scenes and make decisions which ALL parents should know about.  They should also be a part of those conversations and no back-door meetings should take place.
The reason I’m so torn on this issue is because for me it is relatively new.  I’m not in schools enough and I don’t know many transgender folks.  While this isn’t a brand-new issue, it has gotten the spotlight the past few years.  I’m against any kind of discrimination, period.  Equal rights for all.  But many Republicans are against transgender folks, as well as homosexuals, because of what the Bible says.  I’m sure I won’t win any friends here, but the Bible was rewritten in the Council of Nicea some 1,500 years ago.  By a group of men.  It wasn’t rewritten by God.  And while the Bible doesn’t address gender identity or expression, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a big debate in the Council of Nicea.  I’ve heard some say the Bible is “God-breathed”, meaning it is infallible.  But I’ve seen one message in the Bible taken in so many different ways that it seems folks forget the basic message of the good book: love your neighbor.  Be nice.  Be kind.  To me, that is the message I take from the Bible.  Did you learn to forgive others?  Do you give more than you take?  Do you do your best to set an example for your children?  To me, those are the important things.  I believe in the Ten Commandments.  I do my best to obey them.  I don’t covet my neighbor’s wife.  I know the couple next to me are moving out and I haven’t met my other neighbor yet.  I haven’t killed anyone.  And so on.  I will never understand hating someone for what they are or the choices they make.  If they get all the stuff I take from the Bible, I’m pretty sure their passage to Heaven (or whatever afterlife you choose to believe in) is assured.
If Delaware Republicans and Democrats want to make some real headway, how about they band together to get rid of the rot in our state government?  We did a pretty good job on opt out a couple years ago.  Imagine what we could do together if we REALLY got organized?

Mike Matthews Speaks!

Finally!  After weeks of Delaware Governor John Carney’s posturing about his plans for the Christina School District Wilmington schools, Delaware State Education Association President Mike Matthews gave a shout-out to his fellow DSEA members about the rapidly developing situation.

Being at the table doesn’t mean you are in full collaboration with the rest of the table.  But it is a slippery slope.  Cause sometimes they will serve you on the table.  Carney’s Springfield gambit has more holes than a donut shop.  The Springfield teachers union was not on board with this at all despite any mainstream articles you read about it.  I fully expect DSEA and the Christina local to speak out 100% against this when the time comes.

In looking at the demographics between Christina and Springfield, I noticed the student populations are vastly different.  While Springfield’s largest minority is Hispanic students, Christina’s Wilmington students are mostly African-American.  This represents different needs and approaches right off the bat.  For those who see this is a softer approach to Christina, I don’t.  I see it as a forced coercion on the part of the Governor and the Delaware Dept. of Education.  And it appears they have the usual suspects pimping for them.

Seaford Mother Outraged Over Potential Abuse From Seaford Teacher Towards Her Child With Autism

Tonight, Rob Petree with 105.9 wrote an article about a Seaford School District parent who is claiming a teacher took unnecessary physical measures against her child with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the Autism spectrum.  The mother explained what happened.  When the student was told he could not go to the office when he became upset over not finding his writing journal, the mother claims the teacher took things a bit too far:

“My son said the teacher went so far as to stand in front of the door and block the door and not let him out. The teacher told him to get back in his seat, and he said ‘no I want to go to the office,’ and the teacher told him ‘no get in your seat or I’m going to put you in your seat,’ and Landon once again said no he wanted to go to the office, so the teacher grabbed him by his arm, picked him up, carried him across the room and slammed him down in his chair. Landon said he then got back up out of his chair and tried to go out the door again and the teacher wouldn’t let him out of the door. So he went over and sat down in the chair at the round table near the door, and the teacher again was telling him to get up and go get back in his seat and Landon refused. The teacher went over to try to grab ahold of Landon and Landon got upset, jumped up out of the chair, and grabbed the back of the chair and slammed the chair into the floor, trying to get around the teacher to get out the door. He said at that point the teacher said ‘I’ve had enough of this,’ and grabbed him up by his arm and physically carried him out of the door of the classroom, banging his forehead into the metal door facing in the process, and Landon said at that point as soon as the teacher sat him down in the hallway he ran straight to the office, and that’s when he called me.”

Even more alarming is the Seaford Middle School Principal’s response to her when she asked to see the video of the incident:

Today, I had a meeting with the Middle School Principal and basically what they told me today was that the teacher said that he asked Landon to leave several times and Landon wouldn’t leave the room, and that Landon was throwing pens, pencils, chairs and desks, and that they seen this on video; however, no one was able to produce any video to me showing my son behaving the way they said he behaved. I honestly, truly believe my son, and I believe this teacher is doing nothing but trying to protect himself and the school the same way. I cleaned my son’s locker out today, and he’s not going back to that school as long as that teacher is there.

This is unacceptable.  I found out today the same thing happened to the parents of the child who was assaulted last week at Caesar Rodney High School.  The district refused to release surveillance footage that captured the incident (and I will have more to say on that whole thing that hasn’t been made public yet).  I tagged tons of our state legislators on my Facebook page with a link to the 105.9 article asking for legislation that would demand schools release video to parents whenever their child is harmed in any possible way.

The district will not respond to any of this.  They will shut up unless they have to fire the teacher.  People ask me why I write so much about bad stuff happening in our schools instead of the good.  Sorry, this kind of crap outrages me.  You can have many great things happening in schools, but this is what folks remember and talk about.  This is a travesty.  Even if this teacher used proper restraint and seclusion practices as dictated by state law, the district should still release the video to the parent.  Instead, they are covering their asses.

A former board member for a district did tell me that video like this is released to the police department.  They will review it and eventually it would be shared with the parent(s).  I explained that the video could help a parent understand what happened.  It could be necessary for them to see it so the parent can seek sufficient medical or counseling treatment for their child.

I wrote an article last year on the Delaware Dept. of Education’s annual Restraint & Seclusion report.  Seaford Middle School had 13 incidents of restraint in the 2015-2016 school year.  Compared to Milford’s middle school which had 1.  In Seaford, they had 38 incidents of restraint affecting 21 students.  But if this situation played out anywhere close to what the mother is claiming, this was no ordinary restraint.  If it went down how she said it did, this teacher should face criminal charges for assault.  Dealing with special education students can be challenging for teachers and parents.  But if you don’t have the proper training required to take action like this, you should do nothing and contact someone who can help.  Sadly, for this student, it will be a day he will never forget.

I don’t care where a video is: cafeteria, classroom, bus, hallway or anywhere on school property.  If a parent asks to see it, you show it to them, no questions asked.  The act of withholding something like that immediately sends red flags up with parents.  Or saying you have it but then you don’t.  You reap what you sow with that kind of logic.  In the case of the Family Educational Records Protection Act (FERPA), that applies to educational records.  If a parent requests records on their child, the school is obligated to produce it.  But is surveillance video considered an educational record?  That will be the argument here.  But I don’t care.  If a kid gets hurt, you do the right thing and show the parent.  Cause it could mean the difference between a parent deciding whether or not to sue the district.

This should NOT happen in our schools.  Tonight, I am very pissed off.  At this.  At Caesar Rodney.  At other districts where I am trying to help parents navigate through special education issues with schools.  So much of what I help parents with are things every school should know by now.  Districts and charters complain all the time about getting sued so much and the “predatory” law firms.  Guess what?  The very act of protecting yourself is usually what gets you sued.  How does that work out for you?

Updated, 9:50pm: A big thank you to special education advocate Devon Hynson for providing a link to what FERPA says about surveillance videos-

Schools are increasingly using security cameras as a tool to monitor and improve student safety. Images of students captured on security videotapes that are maintained by the school’s law enforcement unit are not considered education records under FERPA.  Accordingly, these videotapes may be shared with parents of students whose images are on the video and with outside law enforcement authorities, as appropriate. Schools that do not have a designated law enforcement unit might consider designating an employee to serve as the “law enforcement unit” in order to maintain the security camera and determine the appropriate circumstances in which the school would disclose recorded images.