The Dream Becomes A Reality: Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students

It all starts with an idea.  But ideas that roll around in your mind will always be just that.  It is now time for action!  Therefore, this is the birth of Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students.

For almost four years I’ve been writing about education in good old Delaware.  It’s taken me from the bottom of Sussex all the way to the tip-top parts of the state.  I’ve been to Legislative Hall and the Delaware DOE building more times than I can count.  And nothing has changed.  In fact, I’m going to say it is getting worse.  Especially with special education.  But it isn’t just that.  It is also issues dealing with school discipline, race, gender, bullying, classroom management, class sizes, safety, and trauma coming into our schools in ways our educators are just now starting to fathom and understand.

To that end, I am taking my email/Facebook/social media/cell phone advocacy out of the digital world and into the schools.  This will be a huge task and I need your help!

These are the issues I am willing to advocate for students:

Special Education: whether it is IEPs or 504 plans, it is important to know your child’s rights, the parental rights, and the rights of the school.  Many parents feel overwhelmed in IEP meetings.  Trying to learn about federal IDEA law, Delaware State Code, and all the pending special education legislation is a task in itself.  Do you have a child with a unique disability that may warrant very specific goals or accommodations in their IEP?

School Discipline: does the punishment fit the crime?  Does the punishment meet the criteria of the school student code of conduct?  Does it follow state law?  If a student has an IEP or 504 plan was it a manifestation of their disability or just poor choices?  What are the rights of students when there are School Resource Officers, constables, or armed security?  When is physical restraint warranted?  How does it work with transportation and busing when a discipline issue comes up?

Trauma: Is your child going through a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder based on violence in their neighborhood?  Or in their own home?  Are their grades falling behind as a result of this?  Are they acting out?  These are students that may not be special education but need an advocate to help schools and teachers sift through these issues so they can give your child the best education possible.

Bullying: Is your child being bullied?  Are you finding the school isn’t doing everything they can to put a stop to it?  What steps can you take to make sure they do?

These are my goals:

To serve any of the above needs or potential conflict a parent may have with a school.

To guide parents on the appropriate ways to deal with the folks in the schools.  This isn’t as simple as it looks, and when things escalate, there is a proper chain of steps to go through.

To work with every school district and charter school in the state to make sure Parent Council Groups for special education are up and running.

To advocate meaningful dialogue between parents and schools.  This is crucial.  But it is also important to make sure there is one adult in the room who can be unbiased and impartial.  Screaming heads don’t get you far.  It might feel good in the short-term, but it is not conducive to the best interests of the one person who matters the most- your child!

To inform parents of their child’s rights and how that applies to the school setting.  To inform parents of the differences between legislation and regulation and what is enforceable and what is not.

To make sure due process rights are followed to the letter of the law in discipline situations.

I am not an attorney nor do I pretend to be.  I am just a parent with my own special needs child who has run the gauntlet with Delaware schools.  If your child’s school building doesn’t know me directly, they know of me.  All the district and charter leaders know me as well as the legislators.  I have contacts all over the place and know exactly who to go to when things need to happen.  I’ve helped parents out for years but it is time to take it to the next level.

I will be doing this work at no cost.  But any organization or business (whatever this turns out to be based on demand) needs funding.  Pure and simple.  So I am asking for donations from folks in Delaware who see this growing need in our state.  Whether it is a dollar or more, every bit counts.  I am willing to go up and down our state to help our kids.  I am centrally located in Dover so my door is open for all!

If you are of mind to help get this going and help sustain this, any contributions are certainly welcome!  Please go to the Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students page here: https://www.gofundme.com/exceptional-advocacy-for-delaware

If you are a parent who needs help in dealing with a situation involving your child at a Delaware school, please contact me as soon as possible.  My email is kjohlandt70@gmail.com and we can exchange phone numbers from there.

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The Delaware State Police Need YOUR Help For Delaware Students!

The Delaware State Police began the 2017-2018 school year “Operation BACKpack” yesterday.  This annual drive helps students who are unable to afford the essential supplies they need for school.  If you have the means, please help out our students who need it the most.  Here is their press release:

Good morning communities! It is hard to believe the next school year is right around the corner! To help prepare, the Delaware State Police Community Outreach Unit has established a program to assist elementary school aged children in need with the necessities for school. Troopers are asking for help with any donations to fill each child’s back-pack with school supplies. Troopers assigned to the Statewide Community Outreach Unit have initiated this program and are working with organizations in their communities to collect and donate school supplies for children in need. Donations can be taken Headquarters in Dover or to any Troop statewide by anyone wishing to help. Each Troop will have a box in their lobby for supplies to be dropped off for the project. The donations will be collected from July 10 to August 11, 2017 and the donations will be presented for the 2017-2018 school year, prior to school starting. A list of supplies needed for the students are listed below:

Backpacks

No. 2 pencils

Spiral notebooks

Washable Crayola crayons box of 24

Large pink erasers

Pencil cases

Colored pencils

Washable markers

Loose leaf wide ruled paper

Highlighters Composition books

3 ring binders

Plastic folders with pockets

Tissue boxes

Hand sanitizer

If you need to contact any of the Troopers in the Community Outreach Unit, their information by region is listed below:

Master Corporal Mike Austin (New Castle County) 302-365-8466

Corporal/1 Heather Imhof (Kent and Southern New Castle County) 302-698-8520

Master Corporal Rickey Hargis (Eastern Sussex County) 302-752-3804 Corporal/1 Juanita Huey-Smith (Western Sussex County) 302-232-3459

Please help the Delaware State Police give to the students who will need the essential supplies and materials for a successful school year. Thank you for your help.

Delaware DOE Isn’t Digging Delaware STEM Academy Right About Now

The Delaware State Board of Education put the Delaware STEM Academy on formal review at their April meeting for low enrollment and financial viability.  At their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting on May 10th, the committee said the school was out of compliance in every single area in their formal review.

The main area of concern which prompted the school to ask for a formal review (yes, they asked because the DOE was about to do it anyways) is due to low enrollment.  And it is very low.  Their approved charter calls for 250 students.  By April 1st prior to the next school year, all Delaware charters must have 80% of their approved enrollment.  Delaware STEM Academy needed 200 enrolled students.  Applications and pending decisions don’t count.  They must be enrolled.  As of April 15th, the school had 91 enrolled students.  As of May 10th, they had 113.  They aren’t even close to 80% with their current 45.2%.  And we are approaching the end of May.

In a cover letter sent to the Charter School Office requesting their formal review from 4/15, their Board President, Ted Williams, informs the Delaware DOE they have entered into a contract with Innovative Schools.  But in the initial report from the 5/10 meeting, we see something very different:

Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether it has a final contract with Innovative Schools. Mr. B. Taylor stated that the contract has been approved by the board but it is not yet signed.

While this may be seen as being picky on my part, “entering into a contract” would imply the contract was signed.  In the DOE’s eyes, a signed contract could be helpful in determining their decision in the school’s favor.  It would show the school has support in place to help put the foundations together by the time the school opens.  But implying a month earlier there is a signed contract only to find out there is no signed contract during their CSAC meeting probably wasn’t a wise choice from Delaware STEM Academy.

One part of the below report which I found to be a bit arrogant was this:

Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether the grant funds would be returned if the school does not open. Mr. B. Taylor agreed that the funds would be returned to the funders. Mr. Williams added the private donations would not be returned.

This probably isn’t the best idea either unless it was explicitly told to those donating money it wouldn’t be returned in the event the school doesn’t open.  It may cause others to think twice before donating to charters before they even open.

This is the part I don’t get though.  The school wanted 250 students as their approved enrollment for their first year with students in 9th and 10th grade.  Here we are, over two years since the school was approved, and the DOE is allowing the school to submit a budget scenario where they have 105 students.  Is this even allowable as per Title 14 of Delaware code?  It is, if that is what the school applied for.

…and enrollment of no less than 200 students at full enrollment and no less than 100 students during the first 2 years of operation…

The school didn’t submit a modification request to change their enrollment numbers.  This charter school was approved back in April of 2014.  They already got a one year extension from Mark Murphy.  Delaware Design-Lab High School faced this scenario last year, but their enrollment numbers weren’t at the danger levels Delaware STEM Academy is at.  You can only use that get-out-of-jail-free card once in Delaware.  Here we are over two years later and they still aren’t even close to being ready to open.  Granted, between Delaware Met’s closure this year and what I dubbed Wilmingtonitis yesterday with an overabundance of charter schools, it is obvious we are way past the saturation point in Northern New Castle County for charter schools.  This is not looking good…

asdf

East Side Charter School Rakes In The Bucks In Private Donations

We hear it all the time from the pro-choice charter crowd.  “We don’t get the funding traditional schools get.”  “It’s not fair.”  Wah Wah Wah!  Traditional schools don’t get over a million dollars in contributions through foundations.  They get taxpayer money just like charters do.  And look at all the names on here!  Some of these are very familiar names in the corporate education reform movement here in Delaware!

Compare this to the priority schools in Wilmington.  They have been cash poor for years from tax cuts back in 2009 that were never restored.  It’s easy to have lower proficiency gaps when you rake in the funding which allows for more resources.  And now that you have your hooks in Family Foundations Academy, I’m sure you will be asking for more this year!

 

The Priority Schools & Governor Markell GoFundMe FOIA Donation Is Live! @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @RCEAPrez @Apl_Jax @ecpaige @nannyfat @Roof_O @DelawareBats @BadassTeachersA @TNJ_malbright #netde #eduDE #Delaware #edchat #prioritizethat

Mike Matthews, Warner Elementary School and RCEA President, and I have both submitted FOIA requests to the state of Delaware.  Mike submitted his on 11/20/14 to the Delaware Department of Education for any emails from or to the DOE containing the following: Warner Elementary School, Highlands Elementary School, Shortlidge Elementary School, Bancroft Elementary School, Bayard Middle School, and Stubbs Middle School (all the priority schools), the words priority school, partnership zone school, turnaround school, Gateway Lab School, and other key words, from 3/14/13 to 11/19/14.

Mike received a response from the DOE indicating it would be an initial $300 cost to even continue with the email search.  Alison May, the public information officer for the DOE, said with all the words it could be several thousand hits, and they have to take out information that is not FOIAble, like student information or emails to the General Assembly (not covered by FOIA).  The hourly rate to do this is $35.66 (which by state law would have to be the lowest paid employee able to do the task) plus copying costs and whatnot.  Mike has since indicated he wants to see these documents in digital format, which will reduce the amount significantly.

I submitted a FOIA request to Governor Jack Markell’s office on 12/2/4.  I asked for emails going back to January 21st, 2009, the date of Markell’s inauguration, between Markell and four individuals, whom I will not name at this point.  The only response I have received from this office is that I will receive a response by the 15th business day, which would be 12/22/14.  I advised them to let me know if the cost would be more than $40.00 but I have received no estimate.

Mike’s FOIA alone will stretch into hundreds of dollars, if not over a thousand.  I have no idea about my own or if they will even honor the request.  Certain allowable reasons can get either an extended amount of time or a complete decline.

Mike has started a GoFundMe account for the purpose of raising donations for these FOIA requests.  Mike and I have agreed that if the amount received goes over these costs, they will be donated to the local food bank as charity.  We will submit all receipts to anyone who asks, and I will even scan them on here as well.  To date we have raised $330 out of $500 but the costs could be higher.  The link for the GoFundMe page is http://www.gofundme.com/DelawareFOIA

The time has come to get the truth about what is going on with education in Delaware.