Five Delaware Charters Renewed, One With Major Conditions & Another Didn’t Have A Complete Record

 

Last night at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting, five Delaware charter schools received unanimous approval from board members.  Academia Antonia Alonso, Early College High School, First State Montessori Academy, and Sussex Academy were approved with no conditions.  For Thomas Edison Charter School, that was a different story.  And for another, the State Board did not get a complete record. Continue reading “Five Delaware Charters Renewed, One With Major Conditions & Another Didn’t Have A Complete Record”

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Delaware Attorney General’s Office Ignores FOIA Law In, Uhm, Opinion About, Uhm, A FOIA Complaint!

Carve me up and serve me on a platter!  I have seen a lot in Delaware the past few years, but this one takes the proverbial cake!  On May 26th, I submitted a FOIA complaint against Early College High School regarding their Board of Director meetings.  It was three-fold.  The Delaware Attorney General’s office responded today.  I get what they were saying regarding my first two complaints.  But the third one.  Oh.  My.  God.  This is stuff kids on Romper Room know about FOIA! Continue reading “Delaware Attorney General’s Office Ignores FOIA Law In, Uhm, Opinion About, Uhm, A FOIA Complaint!”

The Smyrna School District Zero Tolerance Pipeline Part 7: The Trial, The Tootsie Roll, & Patrik Williams Loses It

The story of J and his battle with the Smyrna School District continued.  After J was expelled, his mom filed an appeal with the State Board of Education.  She also had J’s criminal trial to contend with as well.  The trial was set for November 14th. Continue reading “The Smyrna School District Zero Tolerance Pipeline Part 7: The Trial, The Tootsie Roll, & Patrik Williams Loses It”

The Smyrna School District Zero Tolerance Pipeline Part 4: The Discipline Hearing- The Testimony Of Smyrna Middle School Administrators

In Part 3, we heard the testimony of the alleged victim, P, and the School Resource Officer.  Now let’s dive right into the testimony of the administrators.  First up, Smyrna Middle School Associate Principal John Camponelli: Continue reading “The Smyrna School District Zero Tolerance Pipeline Part 4: The Discipline Hearing- The Testimony Of Smyrna Middle School Administrators”

Delaware Auditor Report For Certain Eyes Only On School District Tax Rates For FY 2015 & 2016 Raises Questions

The Delaware Auditor of Accounts office released a report today on School District Tax Rates for the past two school years, Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016.  It shows many school districts receiving more in taxes than they were allowed based on the tax warrants.  While these were not huge amounts in many cases, a few districts raised red flags in my book.

But why is the tuition tax not included in this report?  Why is their no inspection by the Auditor’s office to make sure those funds are allocated where they are supposed to and not elsewhere?  This report is lacking in many details.  While it caught a few things, it is not enough.  Under Delaware state code, the Auditor’s office is failing in their fiduciary duty to perform what is required by the law.  You can blame that on funding and staffing issues for the Auditor of Accounts office but if Delaware State Code indicates a state office must perform a duty necessary to adhere to state law, the General Assembly MUST fund that office so they are able to carry out those duties.  Since they haven’t been, the General Assembly has been derelict in their duty.

What kills me is the end of the report:

This information is intended solely for the information and use of DOE and the management of the school districts.  It is not intended to be, and should not be, used by anyone other than these specified parties.  However, under 29 Del. C. 10002(1), this report is a public record and its distribution is not limited.  This report, as required by statute, was provided to the Office of the Governor, the Office of the Controller General, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Office of Management and Budget.

So how many reports are out there that the public has not seen?  I have a feeling it is quite a lot.  I smell a FOIA coming because I want to see ALL the reports that are considered public but are not listed on the Delaware Auditor of Accounts website…

Updated, 3:13pm: This is listed on the auditor’s website, but after State Rep. Earl Jaques admission that he has seen annual audits performed by the Auditor’s office for each district, I have to believe there are a ton of reports the public never sees.  Why all the secrecy?

FOIApalooza At Early College High School Board Meeting Going On Right Now!!!!

At this present moment, 5:46pm, the Early College High School in Dover, Delaware is holding their monthly board of directors meeting.  But the charter school has NO sign-in sheet for public comment, the front door is locked, and a receptionist at the school told a parent there would be no ability for the public to speak at the meeting this evening.  Hello FOIA, meet Early College High School.

I’m a HUGE fan of transparency.  Real big fan.  I don’t like it when parents are denied the ability to speak at a public meeting.  Nothing gets my education flames going more than that.  Especially when it is planned in advance.  How fortunate for myself that I was able to catch this in real-time!  That takes some major chutzpah to do that.  But not only is all this going on, but they started the meeting early thus denying the public the ability to even hear everything that was discussed if they were able to get through their locked doors.

It makes me wonder why the Board of Directors wouldn’t allow public comment at this meeting.  When I went to check their website to see what is on the agenda, I found it very difficult to ascertain anything since NO AGENDA WAS POSTED!!!!  But during the meeting, there was discussion ABOUT public comment and that anyone wishing to speak has to meet certain conditions first.  Too bad the public didn’t have the opportunity to hear this discussion about their public comment procedures.  One parent went and had something to say, but she never had the opportunity so she left.  Meanwhile, the front doors are still locked.

No Formal Review For DE Academy Of Public Safety & Security Or Delaware Design-Lab? What’s Up With That?

Two Delaware charter schools are in violation of Delaware state law.  The Delaware Department of Education is not putting them under formal review as they did two years ago when a few charter schools did not have 80% of their student enrollment for the next school year by April 1st of that calendar year.  Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security and Delaware Design-Lab High School are under the 80% enrollment.  Why no formal review?  The Delaware State Code, under Title 14, is very clear about this type of situation:

(c)(1) On or before April 1 of each school year, a charter school shall have enrolled, at a minimum, 80% of its total authorized number of students, and the administrator of each charter school shall, pursuant to the requirements below, provide a written certification of that enrollment to the Department of Education and to the superintendent of each public school district in which 1 or more of the charter school’s students reside.

So what gives?  The answer can be found in the State Board of Education agenda for their meeting today.  The Charter School Office gives a monthly presentation to the State Board on all matters surrounding charter schools.

The law is the law.  If they did the same to other charter schools, why are these two not going under the same scrutiny with their enrollment numbers?  Is that fair to the charters that had to go through the formal review process two years ago?  DAPSS numbers have been down for years.  Had they not submitted a modification last year to decrease their enrollment numbers (which passed), they would have gone under formal review last year.  Delaware Design-Lab was one of the schools under formal review two years ago for low enrollment numbers.  Fair is fair, no matter what.  While these numbers are not a train-wreck, they are in violation of what our legislators passed and was written into the state code.

Amy Joyner-Francis’ Murder Trial Reveals Huge Escalation In Fights At Howard High School

As the News Journal reported today, Howard High School experienced more than double the amount of fights between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

During cross-examination of Ursula McCoy, an 8-year faculty veteran at Howard who had worked in the discipline office, Deckers established that violent incidents more than doubled at Howard between the 2014-2015 school year and the 2015-2016 year.  There were 46 reports of violence last year, compared with 20 the year before.

Upon questioning from Deckers, McCoy said “there may be times when (fights) are not reported.”

Sorry Ms. McCoy, when it comes to fighting, all of them should be reported.  It is the law.  It is NOT let’s cherry-pick what is and isn’t a fight.  If the school determines it is a fight, it is a fight.  By failing to report that information to the state, YOU are breaking the law.  Notice the article said she “had worked in the discipline office”.  Why doesn’t she anymore?

I still don’t buy Trinity Carr’s excuse that she couldn’t have known the fight could lead to Amy Joyner-Francis’ death.  She and her friends beat her senseless.  At the very least, they should have known it would cause some type of trauma to her.  But no, we get her attorney defending someone who killed a girl.  I know, it is his job to defend her, but come on!  This was a planned fight.  Kids and teenagers say dumb things, no doubt about it.  I don’t know if that was the case with all this and it really doesn’t matter.  You don’t beat someone until they die because of it.

As for the school not reporting all their fights, I really hope they have learned their lesson and the state makes sure they did.  There is no reason not to report fighting no matter what the reasoning might be.  Some folks say get rid of the Delaware Department of Education, but I believe they are a necessary entity to make sure things like this are reported.  As well with special education issues and things of that sort.  There needs to be ramifications when a school admits in a major trial they didn’t report incidents of violence.  That will bring little solace to the family of Amy Joyner-Francis, but it should be a wake-up call to every single school in this state.  Perhaps if all the fighting were reported it would bring more interventions into a school if the reporting is done with fidelity.

 

Delaware Special Education Due Process Hearing Showcases What Rights A Parent Should NEVER Give Up

A recent due process hearing in Delaware, filed by the parents of a child with a mood disorder, gave an example of the first thing parents should not do with special education.  The due process hearing was against the Cape Henlopen School District.  The parents claimed the district did not fulfill their obligation under IDEA with manifestation determination.  The case also showed a glaring flaw with special education law in the Delaware code, one I hope a legislator picks up on in the 149th General Assembly beginning in January.  Or if a very brave soul with a great deal of tenacity picks up the baton and literally runs for their life during the last two days of the 148th General Assembly and miraculously gets a law like this passed in the next two days, that would be a true miracle.  What did the parents do that ultimately caused a dismissal of the case? Continue reading “Delaware Special Education Due Process Hearing Showcases What Rights A Parent Should NEVER Give Up”

State Board Of Education’s Statement On Action For WEIC Plan Ignores The Fact They Took No Action

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Gotta love the Delaware State Board of Education.  Only they are arrogant enough to consider their “not an approval or a denial” of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan an action.  Don’t believe me?  It’s on their own website: Statement from the State Board of Education with regard to action taken on the WEIC plan – January, 21, 2016.  And yes, they did put a comma after January.  For a group that takes action all the time (usually to the detriment of public education), why are they now sitting on the fence?

The State Board is now in violation of the law as dictated by Senate Bill 122.  I wrote about how they were in danger of breaking the law last Friday.  As of today, there is no notice of a public meeting by January 31st on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar.  The State Board, by not taking action on the WEIC plan, has failed to give WEIC the sixty day window to make improvements in the plan.  What happens if they vote no at their March board meeting?  They have to vote by this coming Sunday, but without putting an agenda up for a meeting a week prior, they can’t have a meeting without violating Delaware State Code in regards to public meetings.  Meanwhile, State Rep. Kim Williams found some other potential violations that went on at last week’s State Board meeting.

Who watches the Watchmen?  In Delaware, in terms of the State Board of Education acting (or not acting in this case) without impunity, it seems nobody does…

To read their official statement on their action inaction taken at last week’s State Board meeting with WEIC, read below:

The Lying & Deceitful DOE & Their Manipulative Agendas To Screw Over Students With Disabilities

The Delaware DOE is filled with liars with the sole purpose of misleading the public.  When things like “standards-based IEPs” are introduced, they misinform the public by saying things like “they aren’t about the Common Core” when in reality they are.  I received an email today which was very troubling and confirms my suspicions about Delaware’s standards-based IEPs.  This is what was contained in the email:

Where is this “required”?  My child has an IEP.  How come I received no notice from PIC on this meeting?  The email was originally sent to parents with autistic children.  Where is the state-wide collaboration?  Does it even exist?  If you didn’t know, PIC is a requirement of Federal IDEA law that each state has a parent group.  And guess who gives them their funding? The Delaware DOE!

When I first heard about Standards-Based IEPs, many folks told me I was overreacting and that they were not based on the Common Core and the state assessment.  Some said it was a good thing.  The Exceptional Children Resources Group, led by Maryann Mieczkowski, said they are not solely based on the Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I actually wrote about this conversation in an article on the November 20th IEP Task Force meeting.

Celestin said DOE is offering training and coaching.  Denn asked if this is required for districts to implement.  She said standards-based IEPs are not required but it is about standards not standardized.  She said parents and IEP teams have struggles with implementing these kinds of IEPs because they need to help students close achievement gaps.  She said teachers are struggling with this and stressed it is not required.  (as Steve Newton mentioned in an article on these IEPs, the measurement for it is the “fidelity” component of the grant in getting schools trained on it).  She did say through compliance monitoring in the future they will look at things that are part of standards-based IEPs in terms of students needs so they will hold IEPs to a higher standard and best practices.  Matt Denn said this isn’t a subject for the IEP Task Force report, but he is hesitant to make recommendations for  something that isn’t required.

I raised my hand to speak again, and Matt Denn jokingly said something about “or if anyone wants to give second public comment”.  I went up and responded to Sarah’s comment.  I advised I went over the DOE presentation to the GACEC (Gov. Adv. Council For Except. Children), and it absolutely is tying IEPs into standards based on “curriculum” which is code word for those who may not know what Common Core is.  I advised the word “rigor” is used in the document which is used by Common Core proponents all the time.  I said rigor is not a word parents like, especially special needs parents, because the way it is used would indicate students with disabilities need to try harder to get to a regular students level, which completely invalidates the spirit of IDEA.

My commentary on tonight’s meeting: Interesting stuff with these transition services coming in.  All of them said “we need more funding”.  In regards to comments made by DOE employees, I know these folks work very hard at their jobs, and for that, they have my respect.  But if Delaware holds such a higher standard for IEPs, why did you need Federal intervention in Special Education?  Why would you hold a higher standard for something that isn’t even legally required?  Cause you like what you have created?  If they look at best practice, why the hell won’t they look at IEP denials?  Who are they trying to protect? (I already know the answer to that, and they know I know but they don’t care) Sorry Sarah, you can say whatever you want, but any presentation that has the word “rigor” in it, which is one of those words that make opponents of common core flip out, is not going to work for me and many other special needs parents.

I went to go back and listen to the audio recording of this meeting, but the audio recording was cut short and is not able to be downloaded.  Many of the audios from this task force were shortened or aren’t downloadable.  But I did recall the Exceptional Children Resources Group giving a presentation on standards-based IEPs to the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.  There was a whole section on this presentation on “de-bunking the myths about standards-based IEPs”.  The main thrust of this section was “The CCSS (Common Core State Standards) are not a menu for special educators to pick and write from,” and “standards-based IEPs focus on the prioritized skills needed for students with disabilities to have ACCESS to the same standards as non-disabled peers.”

They already have access to the state standards.  It’s called going to public school in Delaware.  I have to admit, with all the attention I’ve given to the parent opt-out movement in Delaware, I let this one slip by.

Here’s the facts: Standards-based IEPs are not written in IDEA regulation nor are they written anywhere in Delaware state code.  Matt Denn, the Chair of the IEP Task Force didn’t even want to include standards-based IEPs in the Final Report for this very reason.  There is absolutely nothing written into Senate Bill 33, the legislation coming out of the IEP Task Force about them either.

The standards-based IEP in Delaware is turning into something every parent of a child on an IEP needs to be very afraid of.  It is all designed to address the Smarter Balanced Assessment when all the catchy phrases and jargon come out of the wash.  Last Summer, U.S. Senators blasted U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan over Federal intrusion with IDEA and special education but nothing came out of it.

Brandywine’s Dr. Holodick Bullying Parents “I’m the only one who can say who does not have to take the test.”

I’m getting multiple reports from parents that Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick of Brandywine School District is handling all opt out requests.  Once a letter is received, he contacts the parent, asks to meet with them, and tells them he has sole authority on how a student is or is not opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  He tells them unless they have a medical condition that would allow them to be exempt, they must take the test.

Dr. Holodick, I spoke to you a few weeks ago in response to my article about Brandywine’s website and your letter to parents about opt out.  I can see my words did nothing to change your feelings on this, which is fine.  We are all entitled to our opinion.  However, you are misreading the facts.  Delaware state code states a school can only exempt a child under certain medical conditions.  There is nothing in state code at all about what conditions a parent can or can’t opt their child out.  These parents aren’t opting their children out asking for permission.  They are opting their kids out…period!  You have no jurisdiction telling parents they have to obtain medical documentation to opt their child out.

You need to stop this bullying atmosphere in your school district.  While we can all agree these matters should be handled in a civil manner, you are crossing the line with your intimidating behavior.  Brandywine parents who want to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, please go ahead and send in the letter.  If Dr. Holodick calls you, tell him “thank you for your opinion, but my child is not taking this test.”  If he continues to pressure you, tell him you REFUSE to have your child take this test and the discussion is over.  If he continues, tell him you will contact an attorney.

This is exactly why I have tried to give guidance to all superintendents and heads of school in Delaware, but obviously some feel they can interpret the state code however they want.  Fair warning to all of you.  If I hear about it, I publish it.

Updated with that little thing called THE LAW:  http://delcode.delaware.gov/title14/c001/sc04/index.shtml

The Delaware Charter School Transportation Bonus, Allowed By Many Legislators!!!

I know Kilroy has touched on this quite a few times, along with other bloggers, but why in the hell are charters allowed to keep money that public school districts can’t?  Is this their way of compensating for “lack of funds” they cry about all the time?  Cause they sure are getting a lot of left-over cash as you can see by the below documents!

John Kowalko has forwarded this to MANY folks via email, and I didn’t realize the full scope of it.

Despite Speaker Schwartzkopf’ s false and exaggerated claim to the contrary I am willing and able to explore facts and reach legitimate compromises despite his unjustified and false accusations to the contrary. Here is  a prime example where I attempted to compromise on an issue before the Education committee and the Joint Finance committee and that attempt was rebuffed with ultimately harmful consequences to the taxpayers’ money and trust in the General assembly.

    Over the past five-six  years epilogue language in the budget has been created and passed that contravenes existing code directing that transportation allotments to public schools and charter schools provided by the taxpayers and not used for transportation purposes must be returned to the general fund. This has enabled Charters to use this money for any purpose with no accountability to taxpayers or the general assembly. After numerous futile attempts to have language in the epilogue that continually contradicts and violates existing law be forbidden I was faced with the reality that the attitude of leadership was to not tamper with the epilogue process. I agreed to delay my efforts to reform the epilogue system and allow supporters of unfettered and unaccountable access to the excess school transportation funding to bring legislation that would repeal existing code although I stated that I would oppose such an irresponsible action. I was able to muster opposition to proposed legislation that would have repealed the existing code mandating accountability of transportation funding and returning of any funds not used specifically for transportation and the sponsor withdrew the legislation knowing it did not have support. Contrary to the Speaker’s contention that I refuse to compromise, I did not propose legislation that would impede the often necessary use of epilogue language in the end of session budget dialogue. I did, however, make it perfectly clear that if this practice of continually rewriting and contravening existing code were to persist I would be forced to propose legislation to reform this abuse.

     Please note in the attached information that Family Foundations, the school whose leaders have been accused of misuse of funds, received in excess of $707,000 in transportation money and kept more than half of that money- almost $400,000- for ‘other’ uses.

    Over the last four years I have strenuously and vocally objected (always agreeing to attempts at compromise) to this use of epilogue language  that has been specifically added to the budget in spite of the fact that it directly contravenes existing code. This ensures that this use of this money is not accountable to the taxpayers and the General Assembly and violates the principle of specific purpose allotments of taxpayer money. This is akin to a blank check being issued to charter school management and you only need to look at the “Family Foundation” numbers attached to draw your own conclusions. Throughout Representative Schwartzkopf’s tenure as  majority leader and speaker he has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to my documented attempts to rectify this betrayal of the public trust and I find it very appropriate under current circumstances to point out how situations such as the Family Foundations scandal are able to develop and continue.

    Please review all of the documents attached and if you feel the need for clarification, I have kept the records of these dialogues and proposals and will engage in any conversation on the subject.

    Sometimes compromise is a necessary and even good thing. I compromised last year on both of the bills I had been working on . However, sometimes compromise is not. When one party is simply wrong, compromise is wrong also. It does not benefit the people we represent.

 Representative John A. Kowalko Jr.