The Delaware Department of Education’s Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting requested a legal opinion from the Delaware Department of Justice. She wanted to know if the Department could legally enforce local school districts to send non-minor capital improvement match tax funds to Delaware charter schools. What did the DOJ say? Continue reading “Delaware Department Of Justice Weighs In On Charter Schools Keeping Certain Match Tax Funds”
I filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against DelTech Community College on May 10th, 2017. The Delaware Department of Justice issued their legal opinion on the FOIA complaint today. They found that DelTech violated open meeting law with their College Educational Foundation and The Collegewide Criminal Justice Advisory Board.
First, the Attorney General had to determine if these two entities are public bodies. They found both are. Especially noteworthy is their Foundation. Because their Foundation consists of seven members from the college’s Board of Trustees, and four board members represents a quorum, they are a public body that must make their meetings public and produce minutes from each meeting.
…any gathering of the Foundation that includes a quorum of the Board of Trustees, and during which public business is discussed, is considered a meeting of the Board of Trustees to which FOIA’s open meeting requirements are applicable.
I did name other groups at the school, specifically their Collegewide Safety/Security Committee, Ad Hoc President’s Council, President’s Council, and Learning Community Collegewide Steering Committee. Because those groups are made up of staff members, they are not considered a public body thus they are immune to open meeting law.
It’s hard sometimes to win these things. There are ambiguities in state code that can turn a predicted victory into a moment of defeat. But I was very pleased with the outcome of this one and what it means for other such entities floating around Delaware. Time to do some reaching out to other various foundations in the state. For those who think this might apply to Delaware State University or University of Delaware, think again. They are exempt from FOIA law in Delaware.
To read the full legal opinion issued by Deputy Attorney General Carla Jarosz, please read below:
WDEL announced Dr. Tennell Brewington, the former co-head of school of Family Foundations Academy, pled guilty to her role in theft of education funds at the New Castle County charter school. Her whopping sentence: three years in prison but it was suspended. NO jail time. Oh, but she will have probation. Cry me a damn river! You better believe if that was you or I working in the private sector, we would be doing time! But no, not in Delaware, the first to sign the Constitution and the last to follow it. Sorry, this really pisses me off.
As if education funding isn’t jacked up enough, now our courts are saying it is okay to steal money meant for kids. But I guess we need to add new buckets on Delaware Online Checkbook. You know, things like foot massages and pedicures. Give me a friggin’ break here! I guess Audrey Erschen and Chuck Taylor from Providence Creek Academy will get lollipops for their misdeeds there. Or Noel Rodriguez from Academy of Dover will get some more Disney knick-knacks for showing a little remorse. And the guy from Indian River, Patrick Miller, can get a new boat. But we will throw kids down the river for much lesser crimes. This state is so damn corrupt it isn’t even funny.
And what the hell is up with Sean Moore? That crap isn’t even funny anymore. He is sitting back and laughing at all this. These people are getting away with whatever the hell they want. It appears it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s who you know. Whose palms are getting greased? What political favors are going around to avoid prison time for these clowns? These are kids that are going without. Our courts are saying they care more about the burden of incarcerating influential school “leaders” than sending an example that it isn’t right to steal education funds.
Some lady stole a ton of money from the Cape Henlopen boosters club for baseball or something like that. Over $20,000.00. I can see that example really working there Delaware! That happened after all the charter thieves got caught. I suspect there is a lot more of this going on. Which is why nobody wants to REALLY audit these schools. Providence Creek didn’t learn their lesson the first time. They just got better at hiding it. But like most secrets, they can’t stay buried forever. But what does it matter? The guilty will get off easy. Can’t have all those thieves filling up courtroom space while the courtroom is already filled up with the school-to-prison pipeline kids. Can’t have that!
Consider this a glimpse into the future. This picture won’t make any sense now, but it will later. This is an end result of a battle that has gone on for well over a year and a half between a student at Smyrna Middle School and the district, led by now Superintendent Patrik Williams, and their refusal to bow down from zero tolerance policies in the district. This is ugly, but it doesn’t stop at the Smyrna School District. It gets bigger from there and involves the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Department of Justice, the police, and the Justice of the Peace in Delaware. Continue reading “Prelude: Patrik Williams & Smyrna School District’s Egregious Zero Tolerance Railroading Of Middle School Student”
Cursive. Educator Licensure. Child Abuse Training. Bullying. Gang Detection. Public School Enrollment for children in custody of DSCYF. These are the biggest education bills up for a vote today in the Delaware House of Representatives and the Senate. Two will go to the House and two to the Senate if they pass. What are these bills?
House Bill #70:
This is State Rep. Andria Bennett’s cursive bill. It was released from the House Education Committee in April. It would make cursive instruction mandatory in all Delaware public schools. It has many in support of the bill, but quite a few are opposed to it as well.
Under current educational standards, students are no longer required to be taught cursive writing and many schools have abandoned teaching cursive writing to students. As cursive writing is still an imperative skill in many professions, this bill makes teaching cursive writing a requirement for all public schools in Delaware.
House Substitute 1 for House Bill #143:
State Rep. Kim Williams’ HS1 for HB #143 deals with teacher licensure and the Praxis exam.
This Act removes the provisional license and re-establishes a 3 tiered licensure system. An initial license provides for two years for the initial licensee to obtain a passing score on an approved performance assessment. This Act provides for reciprocity for a state-created and approved performance assessment from another state or jurisdiction to meet the performance assessment requirement. This Act also eliminates the general knowledge exam for licensure which will result in a savings to the candidate of a range of $100 to $150. Additionally, this Act provides for a reimbursement of no less than $100 to a license holder who meets the performance assessment requirement and becomes employed in a Delaware public school. The Department will be responsible for training local district and school staff on the performance assessment. Additionally, the Department of Education leadership, including the Secretary of Education will be trained on the performance assessment. For enactment, any individual provided an initial license prior to the enactment date will not be subject to the requirement of obtaining a passing score on a performance assessment. Additionally, any individual provided a provisional license prior to the enactment date will be reissued an initial license and the 2 year requirement for meeting the performance assessment will become effective commencing on the new issue date. The remainder of the bill makes conforming changes to cross-references and license designations.
Senate Bill #87:
Senator Margaret Rose Henry’s bill deals with children in the custody of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families. The Every Student Succeeds Act has certain provisions dealing with these students and this legislation would bring Delaware in synch with that requirement under the McKinney-Vento Act.
This Act updates the school stability law for children in the custody of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families (DSCYF) following passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESSA requires Delaware to eliminate the provision “awaiting foster care placement” under § 202(c), Title 14 in accordance with the federal McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act by December 10, 2017, and instead create a distinct provision regarding school stability for children in the custody of DSCYF. [42 U.S.C. §§ 11431 to 11435; ESEA section 1111(g)(1)(E)(i)-(iii)), 20 U.S.C. §6311(g)(1)(E)]. This Act clarifies that children in the custody of DSCYF remain entitled to attend their school of origin if it is in their best interests to do so, or are eligible for immediate enrollment in a new school. Sections 1, 2, and 3 of this Act take effect on the effective date of final regulations published in the Register of Regulations and promulgated under authority granted by § 202A(d) of Title 14, which is created by Section 2 of this Act.
Senate Bill #102:
Another Senator Henry bill. This bill is similar to last year’s Senate Bill dealing with bullying and child abuse training for educators. This has A LOT of provisions in it. It was heard in the Senate Education Committee meeting yesterday. The Delaware DOE, DOJ, and the Office of the Child Advocate worked on this one for a long time.
This Act consolidates Delaware law related to child abuse and child sexual abuse training and detection, suicide prevention, bullying, criminal youth gang detection, and teen dating violence and sexual assault into one subchapter of Chapter 41, Title 14 of the Delaware Code and develops a non-academic training program that coordinates the trainings school district and charter school employees are required to receive. In addition to streamlining non-academic trainings, this Act provides school districts and charter schools with flexibility to meet current and future non-academic training needs of school district and charter school employees, students, and parents. This Act applies to all public schools, including charter schools and vocational technical schools. This Act also makes technical corrections to conform existing law to the standards of the Delaware Legislative Drafting Manual, ensure consistency within the new subchapter, and make references throughout the Code consistent based changes to certain Code designations made by this Act.
It sounds like Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn is finally clearing up the lingering messes from the charter school financial scandals. Dr. Tennell Brewington, the co-director of Family Foundations Academy, was arrested and charged on October 24th according to Jennifer Flueckiger with WMDT.
A Public Information Officer from the Delaware DOJ told 47ABC that Brewington was arrested on October 24, 2016, and charged with two counts of theft greater than $1500, two counts of unlawful use of a credit card greater than $1500, one count of unlawful use of a payment card less than $1500, and one count of official misconduct.
Yesterday, the United States Department of Justice dealt with a guilty plea from the other co-director of FFA, Sean Moore. He faces a potential prison term of thirty years. If I had to guess, Brewington’s charges from Delaware couldn’t come until she was cleared of any potential federal charges. Or perhaps they were waiting on Moore to give information when he was arrested in another state.
There is no word yet on Noel Rodriguez from Academy of Dover and Shanna Simmens from Providence Creek Academy. State audit investigations found they too stole money from schools. Justice may be slow at times, but it does happen eventually!
On October 7th, the Delaware Pathways Steering Committee held their first meeting with no public notice or an agenda put up 7 days prior to the meeting as required by Delaware state code. In August, Delaware Governor Jack Markell issued an Executive Order creating this public body. The only reason I found out about it was due to tweets from the Rodel Foundation and Mark Brainard of Delaware Tech. I promptly filed a FOIA complaint on October 11th. Seventeen days later, the Delaware Attorney General’s office has already responded to the FOIA complaint. To put this in perspective, I filed a FOIA complaint last March which just had the Attorney General opinion issued last week. BI submitted another FOIA complaint around that same time period and there has been no official opinion released from the Attorney General’s office. But Alison May from the Delaware DOE did respond in record time with their side of the complaint, but she has before. So why was this FOIA complaint rushed?
Below is my original request, the acknowledgment from the Attorney General’s office, the Delaware DOE’s response to the complaint, and the opinion on the FOIA complaint issued today. As well, I am including an email that was still in draft form disputing the facts provided by Alison May in the Delaware DOE’s response. I truly believed I had more time given the turnaround time on FOIA complaints coming out of the AG’s office but this one had a lightning fast response. Given the below findings and other inconsistencies with their opinion, I believe this was a very rushed job they wanted to put to bed fast. But that opens up a whole other can of worms…
Original FOIA Complaint, issued 10/11/16
From: Kevin Ohlandt [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2016 9:23 AM
To: OpenGovernment (DOJ) <OpenGovernment@state.de.us>
Subject: FOIA Complaint
I am submitting a FOIA complaint in regards to the newly created Pathways Steering Committee. This body came out of Executive Order #61, issued by Governor Markell on Thursday, August 11th, 2016. While there was nothing anywhere indicating they were holding a meeting, tweets appeared on October 7th suggesting the body met as a group. This is a state group, created by an elected official. Yet there was no posting of the meeting or an agenda. Attached are screen shots of the tweets posted by Mark Brainard and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.
I take this violation very seriously. For a group that is supposed to be all about students, I find it ironic they would operate in secrecy with no ability for the public to attend. This does not translate into anything close to an open government.
9 Crosley Court
Dover, DE 19904
On October 12th, the Delaware Attorney General acknowledged receipt of my FOIA Complaint
October 11, 2016 Correspondence Regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee
Mr. Kevin Ohlandt
9 Crosley Ct.
Dover, DE 19904
RE: October 11, 2016 Correspondence Regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee
Dear Mr. Ohlandt:
This will acknowledge receipt of your correspondence regarding the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee (the “Committee”), received on October 11, 2016, alleging certain violations of the open meetings provisions of Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act, 29 Del. C. §§ 10001-10007 (“FOIA”). We treat your correspondence as a petition for determination pursuant to 29 Del. C. § 10005. We are forwarding your correspondence to the Committee’s counsel, asking that they respond to your allegations by October 19, 2016. When we have received the Committee’s response, we will determine whether additional information from either party is required and decide what further action, if any, is appropriate.
Very truly yours,
/s/ Kim Siegel
cc: Danielle Gibbs, Chief Deputy Attorney General (via email)
Michelle E. Whalen, Deputy Attorney General (via email)
Meredith S. Tweedie, Esq. (via email)
The Delaware Department of Education’s Response to the FOIA Complaint, 10/19/16
Issued today was the official opinion from the Delaware Attorney General’s office:
16-IB23 10/28/2016 FOIA Opinion Letter to Mr. Kevin Ohlandt re: FOIA Complaint Concerning the Pathways to Prosperity Steering Committee
This is the draft I was working on to send to the Attorney General’s office that I believed I had more time to formulate:
October 26th, 2016
Good afternoon Ms. Siegel,
In reviewing Alison May from the Dept. of Education’s response to my FOIA complaint from October 11th, in the letter provided from her on October 19th, she states the following:
…and the draft minutes of the October 7th meeting (attached hereto, along with the other documents discussed at the meeting) will be posted online by the end of this week.
The DOE provided no explanation as to why the notices and agendas were posted less than seven days in advance of the meetings, and it concedes that the postings did not comply with FOIA. The DOE also explained that no action was taken by the AFWG at either meeting. The DOE apologized and said it would “endeavor to determine the agenda of any future AFWG meetings as of the time of any required public notice of them, and include the agenda in any such required notice.
By letters dated July 31 and August 1, 2012, the Governor extended invitations to a number of individuals to participate in the Working Group as representatives of several public bodies, including the General Assembly, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education, and various private stakeholder groups (the “Invitations”).
On June 10, 2013, you filed this appeal seeking access to the Working Group’s meeting minutes. We received a response on July 11, 2013. The response indicates that the Working Group did not consider itself to be a “public body” within the meaning of section 10002(h), due primarily to the informal nature of the Working Group.
FOIA, with certain exceptions not relevant here, establishes a public right to inspect all “public records” and requires that all meetings of public bodies be open to the public.4 FOIA’s “open meeting” provisions call for advance notice to the public of all public meetings and require public bodies to prepare and make available to the public agendas for and minutes of their public meetings.5
Section 10002(h) provides substantial guidance as to the types of entities and bodies encompassed within the phrase “body of the State.” That concept, as used in FOIA, includes, among other things, any “group . . . appointed by any . . . public official of the State” that was “impliedly or specifically charged” with making recommendations.9 The Working Group was a “body of the State” within the meaning of section 10002(h).
But the key part from this opinion rests on the following and is key to my own FOIA complaint:
First, this Office consistently has rejected arguments that FOIA’s applicability hinges on adherence to formalities in the creation of a public body, lest FOIA’s goals of openness and government accountability be subverted.14
This was where my draft ended which I fully intended on doing further research on in the next week.
Now here are my issues with the Attorney General’s response to the FOIA complaint. First off, in Alison May’s response from the Delaware DOE, she said it was under the Delaware Dept. of Education’s control to issue the agenda. However, in the link on the FOIA complaint, we see an Agenda created on 10/17/16, ten days after the meeting, and it was issued from Governor Markell’s office, not the Delaware DOE. Furthermore, if this was indeed a public body, why was there no agenda item for public comment? As well, the minutes submitted by Alison May in the DOE’s response to the FOIA complaint are actually different than those that appear on the Googledrive website.
In the original minutes, submitted with Alison May in the Delaware DOE response to my FOIA complaint, it states the following:
Dr. Brainard charged Mr. Rhine to conduct outreach to Steering Committee members to review the draft strategic plan and collect additional input;
Dr. Brainard charged Mr. Rhine to develop a transition report for partnering state agencies to be used as a transitional tool in planning for the next executive administration;
Mr. Rhine will conduct outreach to Steering Committee members to review the draft strategic plan and collect additional input;Mr. Rhine will develop a transition report for partnering state agencies to be used as a transitional tool in planning for the next executive administration;
Moreover, as you note in your Petition, certain members of the Committee published photographs of its meeting on social media either, contemporaneously or immediately following the meeting. We find this to be inconsistent with an intentional failure to adhere to FOIA’s open meetings provisions. We see no evidence of an intent – by the Governor or any other Committee member – to circumvent FOIA. Nor do we see an ongoing pattern of FOIA non-compliance which might warrant extreme remedy.
Here is a newsflash for the Attorney General’s office: having a non-profit foundation and a member of the committee post tweets about a non-transparent meeting of a public body issued by a Governor’s Executive Order, does not point either way towards an intentional failure to adhere to FOIA’s open meetings provisions. What it shows is someone tweeting. So to give this extra bearing in a legal opinion about something that was already established to be under the Delaware Dept. of Education’s responsibility is misleading at best.
Last Spring, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act complaint against Gateway Lab School, a Delaware charter school, to the Delaware Attorney General’s Office. As any regular reader of this blog is aware, I frequently review meeting minutes for charter schools and school districts. What I saw in the March minutes for Gateway Lab School shocked me. Not so much from what they did, but the fact our Attorney General’s office released similar opinions on these kind of matters in the seven months prior to this. I bear no ill will towards Gateway or their board. I have always commended this charter school for servicing students with disabilities as the bulk of their student population. I was among the majority who felt the Charter School Accountability Committee’s 2014 recommendation to shut the school down was absolutely ridiculous, especially when that decision was based on standardized test scores.
After I filed the complaint, myself and Gateway went back and forth via email on the complaint. During that time, I found another similar action by the Gateway board. While I had some pains submitting the original complaint because of my loyalty for a special needs school, I felt it was important for them to correct this action. Did they? And how did the Attorney General’s office rule on my complaint? Find out below!
As I’m sure most of America has heard, the Delaware Department of Justice filed charges against three teenagers involved in Amy Joyner-Francis’ murder two and a half weeks ago at Howard High School of Technology. There is absolutely no mention of Amy’s head being slammed into the bathroom sink even though some reports stated that at the onset. Only one girl, Trinity Carr, actually hit Amy. She has been charged with criminally-negligent homicide. The other two helped plan the assault up to twenty hours earlier. But the true shocker was that Amy had a pre-existing heart condition.
According to the News Journal article linked above:
Investigators determined that the fight was a planned confrontation in the girl’s bathroom, but only one girl – 16-year-old Trinity Carr – actually hit Amy that day, according to a statement by the DOJ. The fight was filmed, according to court documents, and shows Carr hitting Amy repeatedly in the head and torso area with “what what appears to be a closed fist.”
The video then shows Carr leave and Amy attempt to stand up from the floor, according to court documents. Amy then appears disoriented, court papers say, and collapses back to the floor. When paramedics found her, she was unresponsive and went into cardiac arrest shortly after.
Knowing what really happened won’t take away the pain and sadness surrounding all this. It won’t bring back Amy who apparently didn’t know this was coming. Just a sweet, innocent teenage girl going to school one day. The question is how many others knew about it. I am still upset no one else in that bathroom intervened. I’m assuming her heart condition was private as that has never been mentioned before. If the intent was there to do bodily harm to Amy, what did Carr think would happen? While they may not have planned actual murder, how is this “criminally negligent”? Our justice systems works in funny ways. Why did it take two and a half weeks when the police had the video the entire time to arrest Carr? At the very least, the evidence clearly shows an assault.
Trinity Carr, Zion Snow, and Chakeira Wright will have to live with what they did every single day for the rest of their life. Carr will most likely spend what should be some of the best years of her life in prison. Snow and Wright will probably be in juvenile detention while their classmates are going to the prom and graduating. But no amount of justice will ever make any of this alright. Amy will never have the opportunity for any of those things. I really hope this is a wake-up call for all of us in Delaware. We need to make sure this never happens again, and that includes the adults.
Tim Furlong with NBC Philadelphia gave a bit more detail about what happened after the fight:
After the fight, Joyner-Francis complained about head and chest pain. A school resource officer called 911 and Joyner-Francis lost consciousness before medics arrived. CPR was performed as she was flown to a nearby children’s hospital. She later died at the hospital.
Where was this school resource officer during the fight? I understand fights can happen fast, but where were any adults during this assault? That is the question no one is asking. I challenged the district about this a couple of weeks ago. It was important to clarify their board meeting change, but in regards to my other concerns, they completely ignored them. Last week I saw the Superintendent of the district for Howard High School, Dr. Gehrt. She knows who I am cause I’ve seen her at many meetings where I gave public comment. I saw her at the assessment inventory meeting at the Delaware DOE. Usually she gives me a smile. At this meeting, she could only scowl at me. I’ll take my lumps where I get them. But at least own up to… something.
Amy’s death affected me immensely, and I didn’t even know the poor girl. She is a memorial to what we need to fix in our schools. We can’t stop what happens outside of school, but we can make sure Amy’s death is a living testament to change. I haven’t heard one word about school climate from those in power. We have seen plenty in social media comments, but once again it is an empty echo chamber from the decision-makers in our state. Our legislators have been strangely quiet on the issue. The Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Governor Markell have been eerily quiet about the situation. Perhaps things will start to happen now that the investigation is over and charges have been filed. All I know is something has to happen. We can’t have another Amy, or all the many living victims of bullying and assault in our schools. It has to stop.
It doesn’t just happen in charter schools. According to WBOC, former Dover High School teacher Brian Ogbin gave himself up to the Dover Police last Friday and was charged with theft under $1500 and unlawful use of a payment card under $1500. So how does it work that this guy gets arrested for theft under $1500 but charter school leaders and employees from Family Foundations Academy, Academy of Dover, and Providence Creek Academy get away with stealing funds in the five to six digits and NO arrests have been made? It has been over nine months since the State Auditor report came out on Academy of Dover.
Ogbin resigned as a teacher with the Capital School District at their February board meeting. According to the article, the theft of funds using the debit card and funds taken from a wrestling fundraiser were discovered following an investigation. The article does not state who held the investigation. I would imagine cash advances from Dover Downs totaling over $500 would have sent some red flags flying though. How many debit or p-cards (state procurement cards) are floating around out there ready for someone to use at a moment’s notice for stuff like this? While I’m glad this situation was discovered relatively fast compared to the charter school stuff going on out there, where are the controls that could stop this from happening in the first place? Should school “clubs” or “organizations” be allowed to have their own control over funds generated by the district and fundraisers?
My biggest concern with all of this is the sheer hypocrisy involved. I’ve been told by some in the know that something will happen with these charter school leaders. That was in November. I have asked “larger organizations” about this. How long does it take to build a case against a charter school employee while a traditional school district employee is arrested for something similar but less egregious? It makes it very hard to believe there will be accountability for the charter thieves in light of this. They absconded with hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Matt Denn, what is the Department of Justice doing about this?
It must be Matt Denn day here at Exceptional Delaware! In any event, Delaware Attorney General appeared on Comcast Newsmakers with Jill Horner on March 21st to talk about Senate Bill 207. This legislation would make it so schools do not have to call the police every time there is a fight in a Delaware public school. The schools still could, but they would have discretion based on the circumstances and the potential of serious injury. As well, SB207 would mandate schools disclose the contact information for the Ombudsman at the DOJ who deals with school bullying issues to parents.
As reported by Randall Chase with the Associated Press yesterday, Delaware’s Cyber Security Advisory Council kicked off their first meeting with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) violation. But what the article didn’t cover was how the state tried to cover its tracks after the meeting.
James Collins, the state’s chief information officer and head of the council, then said the panel would meet in executive session, even though Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act requires that such closed-door meetings be noticed ahead of time.
But do they have the ability to time travel into the future to give that notice? Apparently, they do!
This is the agenda for the first meeting as shown on Delaware’s Public Meeting Calendar website.
It looks like they have everything covered, right? Including a FOIA Exemption Proposal because they know they are violating FOIA. Here is the page from the Public Meeting Calendar website:
Looks okay to me, right?
In the above picture, taken from the bottom left-hand corner of the Public Meeting Calendar notice, it shows three change dates. 3/3/2016 was the original posting of the meeting, 3/22/2016 I would assume had the addition of the FBI Agent giving the briefing on the unclassified threat, and the 3/23/2016 change was to give notice about the group going into executive session to discuss the unclassified threat. So maybe Randall Chase got it all wrong, right?
Nope. This picture is the properties of the PDF. If you right-click with your mouse on a PDF, it tells you when a PDF was created and modified. This PDF was actually created yesterday, 3/23/2016 at 3:17:16pm. It was a brand new agenda. The part blacked out is my own personal location for my computer which I didn’t think was necessary to throw out there so I will fully admit I blacked it out in the picture.
Someone should really file a FOIA complaint on this one to the Delaware Department of Justice! Oh wait, I already did…
Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams introduced a bill yesterday concerning school bullying and when a student can transfer to a different school when “good cause” has been established with school bullying. The current law does not specify what category of bullying can trigger such a transfer. Rep. Williams legislation would create a new law requiring the bullying to be a substantiated incident. This would mean an official bullying complaint would need to be filed by the parent or guardian at the school, who would in turn have to rule bullying did occur. All Delaware schools are required to report this information to the Delaware Department of Education.
This bill would prevent parents from just switching out students without a valid good cause, which unfortunately happens at times in Delaware. The current law does not protect the schools and the loss of funds when these events occur. While some parents may take issue with this due to schools not ruling a bullying incident as substantiated (which is a whole other issue which I would like to see improved), there are other options for parents to take should a school not agree with the complaint. All Delaware schools are required to have the website and contact information for the Delaware Ombudsman for Bullying Prevention through the Department of Justice.
In 2014, then Lieutenant Governor Matt Denned issued a statement regarding the responsibilities of schools reporting bullying incidents:
“It is encouraging to see the progress our schools have made in keeping parents informed about bullying, because that was one of the primary goals of the 2012 legislation,” said Attorney General Denn who co-authored the 2012 legislation as Lieutenant Governor. “But our schools clearly have more work to do in letting parents know what recourse they have when bullying does occur, and the state needs to do a better job accurately tracking bullying incidents so we can accurately monitor our overall progress.”
All bullying complaints, whether substantiated or not, are required to be reported to the Dept. of Education and it is the school’s responsibility to enter the information on a system called E-School. I have always encouraged parents to request a copy of their child’s E-School report. This can be done at a school or district level in most situations. To read the legislation, please see below:
Tomorrow the Delaware State Board of Education will vote on Regulation 616. This regulation concerning school suspensions, expulsions, and out of school placements (alternative schools) is very controversial. I wrote in December about the Assistant Superintendent from Smyrna’s very funny letter about this regulation, but many more have come in and they are all very alarming. The biggest of which is one from the American Civil Liberties Union, as seen below:
On Christmas Eve, Avi with Newsworks/WHYY published an article called “A year later, still no money for three Delaware ‘priority’ schools”. I found this article to be fascinating and revealing. Especially since it gave information that, apparently, the Christina Board of Education wasn’t even aware of. One thing is for certain: the Delaware Department of Education is gunning for the Christina School District and they don’t care who knows anymore.
Last year, the DOE labeled six Wilmington schools as priority schools based on standardized test scores. Three in Christina, and three in Red Clay. Red Clay submitted their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), their plans for the schools, and received funds from the state for the initiative. Christina fought it tooth and nail in many intense board meetings. Finally, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee released their recommendations for redistricting in Wilmington. The Christina Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the DOE giving a one-year pause on their priority schools and granting them a second planning year.
The Christina priority schools seemed like a dead issue until October of this year. At the Delaware Education State Support (DESS) meeting, a DSEA representative asked Penny Schwinn (Chief of Accountability at the DOE) what would happen to the three Christina priority schools if the redistricting effort fell through. Schwinn responded that had been a recent topic of conversation at the DOE. But as per several members of the Christina board of education, nobody from the DOE contacted them about the priority schools or even mentioned them until the State Board of Education meeting on December 17th.
Both Avi and I were present at this meeting and we both saw State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray’s very bizarre behavior. Avi described it well in his article:
The issue surfaced publicly during last Thursday’s State Board of Education Meeting. In the middle of a presentation, board president Terri Quinn Gray grew so upset she rose from her chair and blurted, “I need to take a break.” She meant it literally. Gray grimaced, clutched her stomach, and walked out of the board meeting. The source of Gray’s discontent wasn’t charter schools or testing or redistricting in Wilmington. It was priority schools.
There were several contentious moments at this board meeting. But for Dr. Gray it was something that should have been a throwaway line during a presentation from Penny Schwinn’s Accountability department. The second Penny Schwinn mentioned Christina was on their 2nd planning year for their priority schools, Gray either was truly surprised or she was putting on a show for everyone to see and hear.
The State Board is presented with information for their meetings from Executive Director Donna Johnson. Most of the time, the information can be seen by the public on the State Board website. But sometimes, information isn’t seen until the day of the meeting. I truly don’t know if this applies to the actual State Board members or not. But based on attending one of their State Board retreats, I did see the information was available to them and not the public when it came to a presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Now whether they actually read this information or not ahead of time, or any of the information presented to them, cannot be determined.
During a late September 2014 Christina board meeting, Dr. Gray and fellow State Board member Gregory Coverdale gave public comment and pleaded with Christina to sign their MOU. The audience was filled with Christina board members, and Gray and Coverdale were booed and left when board member John Young was talking about how the DOE needs great leaders. As revealed in a FOIA of DOE emails a year ago, Donna Johnson accused Christina Board member John Young of giving a speech that was most likely written by State Rep. John Kowalko or State Senator Bryan Townsend. Both Gray and Johnson were hammering Christina at the State Board of Education. And we can’t forget Donna Johnson’s very bizarre and strange accusation leveled at the Christina School District last summer.
Based on the last link, I filed a complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice’s office of Civil Rights & Public Trust against Johnson. Over three and a half months later and I have not received an answer to that complaint. No one has contacted me to clarify any of the information about it. I did speak with Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn a week ago about the status of these complaints. He explained to me that the new office in the DOJ is still in the planning stages and they are still sorting out what they can and cannot do based on state code. He also said someone from that office would be contacting me in a few days. That never happened.
In my perception, this is a very personal amount of contention against Christina between Gray and Johnson. I do not think the State Board will approve the WEIC plan for the redistricting of Christina’s Wilmington Schools into Red Clay. I think they are reintroducing the Christina priority schools conversation to put us back to the exact same moment we were at a year ago where the State wants to take those schools and convert them into charter schools. The Delaware Met building is in the Christina School District. There is room in the Community Education building for another school, which is also in the current Christina School District.
The true disconnect here seems to also be taking place within the Christina School District itself. Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski admitted to having conversation with the DOE about Christina priority schools earlier this month.
Andrzejewski, who started as acting superintendent on October 1, told NewsWorks/WHYY he didn’t know money was available for the three priority schools until early December. He said the district will submit sub-grant applications for each of the three school before the month ends. “It kind of surprised all of us when we heard come December that there was money available,” Andrzejewski said.
But this is something the Christina Board had no idea even came up until the State Board meeting on 12/17. And it doesn’t stop there, because Andrzejewski submitted an application for a grant without anyone on the Christina Board even knowing about it.
State and district officials say they’re working together and that both want the schools to receive money as soon as possible. As this article was being reported, a Christina spokesperson told NewsWorks/WHYY that grant applications for each of the three schools were sent to the Department of Education on December 23.
It sounds to me like Andrzejewski needs to get it together and actually speak with his board. The board hired him so he is beholden to informing them before anything like this is submitted to the DOE. Beyond that though, this shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation. The DOE should have given those funds to Christina once they had them available. Instead, they are pretending this is a big deal to give it a media push. Behind the scenes, they are just biding their time and waiting for the pushback from Christina so they can take the schools. And lest we forget, Schwinn herself said one of the consequences of Christina not agreeing to the DOE’s terms on the priority schools is making Christina a “high-risk district”. Imagine if the DOE could somehow take the whole district lock, stock and barrel?
Back in September, I filed three Freedom of Information Act petitions with the Delaware Department of Justice against the Delaware Department of Education. This was shortly after I found out about the opt-out penalties in the Delaware School Success Framework.
To give some background on this, the September 10th petition was in regards to the publication of Regulation 103 in the monthly Registrar of Regulations. State law dictates any items for publication must be submitted 15 days prior. I found out who the Regulation would go at the registrar’s office and requested a FOIA based on who I thought may send this to them from the DOE. I immediately received a response from Alison May, the public information officer at the DOE, that none of the individuals had an email of this sort in their system but if I paid $300 to DTI (the state data office) they could do a more exhaustive search.
The September 17th request was around the State Board of Education Retreat and my assumption information was withheld due to my being the only member of the public in attendance and their full knowledge of my blog.
The September 28th petition concerned the posting of meetings for the Accountability Framework Working Group, their agendas, and the timing associated with them. Please read the below opinion issued by the DOJ and weigh in with your thoughts!
Elizabeth Scheinberg with Children & Educators First asked me to repost an article she wrote yesterday. This is in response to Transparent Christina’s post last week about John Young’s FOIA petition.
Red Font/bolding is for emphasis.
TransparentChristina has shared some posts about a recent CSD FOIA with no comment mechanism. It’s a tactic we often see associated with political bullies, a markellian method to stifle public discourse.
So, let’s have at it: FOIA is NOT Free. I disagree with TC. I wasn’t present at the meeting and didn’t hear the public comment. However, I can offer a rebuttal on generalities:
FOIA is a fantastic tenet of our democracy. With little exclusion, FOIA creates a lens for the public to look through and evaluate the performance of both elected and appointed officials. It is invaluable. But, it does come with a price tag.
A recent CSD FOIA ran the district upwards of $3000.00. Not a lot when compared to the budget of that beast, but significant enough to those who care. I care. CSD is in a financial crisis. And while I love FOIA (and I really, really do) I can’t justify what my district was forced to expend to satisfy a malicious and mostly frivolous FOIA. (Already noted in a previous post that 1 facet of the FOIA was conceded to by CSD; as for the other two issues, the DOJ found for the board, not the complainant.)
Forced to respond?
Yes, TC contends that “the public body has to DECIDE whether to respond via counsel to the allegation.” That’s true on face value. But, only on face value. The body could choose to ignore that notification and request for evidence sent by the Department of Justice. This will produce two outcomes, neither preferable to the engaged constituent:
- First, the body runs the risk of creating a public perception that it is above the law, above even the Department of Justice. This route will tarnish the body’s public perception = a public less willing to support it.
- The body run the risk the FOIA opinion will be founded on whatever evidence the complainant provides – legitimate or fraudulent. I had the pleasure of communicating with the Department of Justice this past week. The department was most helpful in explaining what happens when the subject of FOIA does not respond to the DOJ’s inquiry.
“opinions will be based on the evidence available.”
Refusal of the body to participate = radical neglect that defeats the entire judicial process around FOIA. It impugns the SPIRIT of FOIA! And leaves it open for manipulation because the only “evidence” provided will be that of the complainant.
The COST of FOIA:
Moreover, regardless of the body’s decision to respond or not, the FOIA has already begun to cost tax payers’ dollars. How? When the FOIA petition reaches the DOJ, the department is obligated to assign an attorney to investigate the allegations. The hours consumed by the investigation of the petition and research into both the application of the law in the past and present and the evidence presented drain resources (financial and manpower) that could be dedicated to a host of other investigations occurring within the department. While the DOJ may budget funds to a FOIA department, the absences of a current petition does not mean that department personnel are idle. It is fair to say their talents are used elsewhere within the department. The cost clock is ticking.
Thus, the Outcome of the body not responding does not mean FOIA is FREE. There is still a cost born by the tax payers – the cost of DOJ’s investigation is supported by tax payer provided funds!
Superfluous FIOA and Malicious Intent:
I’ve written my fair share of FOIA over the years. It’s a necessary process and a right guaranteed by our democracy. It holds public bodies accountable for their collective and individual actions. However, it can also be abused. In the case of the Christina FOIA, there has been a limited dialogue and deep misunderstanding propagated by those who wish to claim winner-ship of the FOIA.
The petition stated
Based on these 2 concerns in combination, I am asking for clarification of the previous FOIA opinion in order to ensure the CSD BOE acted properly. It is my ardent hope that we did so, but I feel we need to confirm this in light of the Appoquinimink FOIA opinion. https://transparentchristina.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/my-foia-complaint-filed-in-response-to-the-8415-csd-boe-meeting/
It appears the petitioner is acting in the best interest of the pubic body. However, in the comment section of this post, the petitioner goes on to make this accusation:
And there you have it: That this petition provided clarification to the petitioner on several fairly recent FOIA opinions issued by the DOJ was secondary to the petitioner’s assertation that his fellow board members failed to learn from past experience and more importantly that they “secretly traffic information” to eachother. The DOJ opinion essential deems this malicious accusation to be unfounded. It did not opine of any secret or otherwise information trafficked between the body’s members.
This was a superfluous and malicious filing. Had the body voted to ignore the Department of Justice’s communication, the body would have lost its opportunity to provide widely important exculpatory evidence and the finding might have been radically erroneous.
FOIA IS NOT FREE. And while it is open for abuse, the thoughtful and correct course is for a body to respond always. It is only way to reach a unbiased finding based on evidence and law.
And if someone is telling you otherwise, they probably have oceanfront property in Tennessee to sell you too.
Sometimes something just doesn’t click until it hits you. This was the case today when I realized Delaware Met’s direct neighbor is First State Montessori Academy. Can you imagine picking up your child at an elementary school to see students led out at the school next door in handcuffs? Or you look out your window and see kids fighting?
In the above picture, Delaware Met is at 920 N. French St. in Wilmington. Right next to it with nothing but a street dividing them, sits First State Montessori Academy. Even more ironic, their other neighbor to the side of them is the Carvel State Building, where the Delaware Department of Justice has their offices. In fact, I would guess that Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn can see the school from his office window. Only in Delaware!
First State Montessori services kids from Kindergarten to 6th grade. Delaware Met has teenagers in 9th and 10th grade. I’m sorry, but who plans this stuff? I have some of the same concerns with the Community Education Building housing all the different schools and different grades. This isn’t Little House on the Prairie! I don’t think young students should be in any way exposed to whatever is going on over at Delaware Met. There is a specific reason traditional school districts have middle schools and high schools strategically placed away from elementary schools. I firmly believe the Delaware charters up in Wilmington should coordinate with each other so potential problems don’t occur. It was announced last week that the Wilmington Police would have an officer outside the school in the afternoon when school got out.
As parents have been trying to pull their children out of Delaware Met, some are being told they cannot because they signed an agreement to stay with the school for one year. What they may not be telling the parents are certain circumstances that override this part of the charter school law.
From Title 14 of the Delaware Code, paragraph 402:
(2) ”Good cause” shall mean a change in a child’s residence due to a change in family residence, a change in the state in which the family residence is located, a change in a child’s parent’s marital status, a change caused by a guardianship proceeding, placement of a child in foster care, adoption, participation by a child in a foreign exchange program, a reported and recorded instance of “bullying” against their child as defined in § 4112D of this title, or participation by a child in a substance abuse or mental health treatment program, or a set of circumstances consistent with this definition of “good cause.”
I would definitely say with what I am hearing about this school, there would be multiple circumstances that would allow a parent to utilize the “good cause” part of this law. If any parent feels the school is violating the civil rights of their child, whether it is through discipline or special education treatment, please contact Allison Reardon at the Delaware Department of Justice. She is in the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust. Her phone number is 302-577-5400. The Attorney General’s office can not do anything if information is conveyed to them from a 3rd party. They need to hear directly from parents or guardians, or even students. If the school is pressuring parents to keep their children there, they may not be within the legal bounds to do so.
In the meantime, I want to thank the Delaware DOE and the Delaware DOJ for taking these concerns seriously. Nothing is more paramount than the safety of our children.
Before you read this, you absolutely have to read State Rep. Kim Williams breakdown of their last meeting. This is essential!
Okay, welcome back. The Accountability Framework Working Group met last week for their second to last meeting. Their next meeting will be on October 5th at 1:00pm. I put all the notes from their first 11 meetings here and they have since updated the DOE website to include the notes from Meetings #12-14, and Agendas for #14 and #15. Keep in mind the notes were written by the Delaware DOE.
Meeting #12 happened the same day I broke the news about this group and the whole participation rate thing. I had not delved too deep into it at this point, and it would stand to reason the meeting happened around the same time as my article went up that day. The key part from this meeting is this:
…as well as ensuring that schools with significant achievement gaps in ELA and Math proficiency and the four-year graduation rate do not receive the state’s highest rating.
Of particular interest is this part about what is required under ESEA and what constitutes a school getting the highest rating. This will play a huge part later on in this article. This meeting also had the first mention of Regulation 103 which had already been submitted to the Delaware Register of Regulations at this point.
Meeting #13 was held on September 2nd. I don’t know how many members of the AFWG were aware of my articles on this group at this point, but I know for a fact at least three of them were. Nothing was said about participation rate or Regulation 103 at this meeting as per the notes.
Now where things get really interesting, and nobody really knew, was the DOE all of a sudden put out an agenda for the next meeting of the AFWG on September 17th. By state law, if you are putting out an agenda, it has to be done a week ahead of time if it is a public meeting. This agenda was NOT on the DOE website as of 9/14/15 because I looked that day. If you look on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar you can see this listed as a Public Meeting. However, if you right click on the actual PDF created by Jennifer Roussell at the Delaware DOE on 9/16/15 at 8:36am in the morning, the Delaware Department of Education violated FOIA law by not announcing this a week earlier.
The proverbial stuff hit the fan at Meeting #14 on September 17th. This was the same day as the State Board of Education meeting and news of Regulation 103 and its implications for Delaware schools spread like wildfire prior to this meeting.
Note that the group unanimously voted down the participation rate against proficiency. But the AFWG does not have the final say on this. That is the State Board of Education, who had quite a bit of discussion about this along with members of the public at their meeting that day.
But what the AFWG member who spoke at the State Board of Education meeting did not say was this:
The AFWG members present unanimously recommended removing Participation Rate for the Adjusted Proficiency calculation. Further discussion on the accountability consequence for schools missing the 95% target was requested. Initial feedback supported a rule that no school could receive the highest performance rating on DSSF if they missed the 95% threshold.
Since that meeting, I requested from Dr. Penny Schwinn and Ryan Reyna at the Delaware DOE the exact law, code, or regulation which states participation rate is required to be any part of a state’s accountability system. As well, Schwinn said at the 9/17 State Board of Education meeting she was going to request this from US DOE. To date, NOTHING has been presented. I spent countless hours going through federal laws concerning this and ESEA waiver laws, rules and guidance, and there is absolutely NOTHING in Federal law that states this is a requirement. NOTHING. DOE knows this, but they are stalling. AFWG needs to stop relying on the word of Penny Schwinn and actually research this for themselves. But please keep in mind this is what the DOE wrote in the notes and may not actually be what was discussed. If any member of the AFWG wants to contact me about this, please do so.
Last week, on 9/23/15, the AFWG held their 15th meeting. Again, an agenda was put up, without 7 full days notice. It is one again on the Public Meeting Calendar and this one even says there can be public comment at the meeting. If you do the right-click thing again on this PDF and go to document properties, it was created on 9/17/15. Two public meeting FOIA violations.
Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams attended this meeting as I wrote earlier.
The group will meet again on 10/5/15, but you won’t find it on the DOE website. You have to look in the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar again but at least they got the agenda out more than seven days before the public meeting. Maybe they were thinking if you add up all the days together for the last three meetings that would be sufficient enough to get a total of twenty-one days. But that is some fuzzy math, cause that would only be seventeen days…
This will (for now), be the last meeting of the AFWG. Will you be there? Of course, it’s on a Monday afternoon, during that oh-so-convenient time for working parents and teachers to come. But we can’t interfere with the State Board of Education’s Grotto’s Smarter Balanced party at 4pm. Or the Charter School public hearings beginning at 4pm.
But this has to be the last meeting because it needs to be presented to the Delaware Education Support System group the next day, also during the same hours between 1-4pm. The group that has no agenda and does not take minutes for their meetings. Because it is so important to present it to this clandestine group but not parents in a transparent way…
This whole thing has become the biggest debacle in DOE history. They are breaking the law all over the place. And yes, I have already submitted two more FOIA complaints for their latest public meeting decisions concerning the AFWG for a grand total of seven pending complaints with the Delaware Department of Justice and two with the federal US DOE.