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”
Over two years later, the Wahl family and Brandywine have settled on a matter involving zero tolerance and due process. As reported by Amy Cherry with WDEL this morning, Patrick Wahl, father of Joseph Wahl, has reached an agreement with the Brandywine School District. In January of 2015, Joseph Wahl was suspended for bringing “sharp objects” to school. While not intentional, the discovery of the objects were ripe with controversy. Patrick Wahl began a one-man crusade to change the district’s zero tolerance policy.
I’ve been following this story for years now and I am delighted Wahl and Brandywine were able to work this out. This morning, Patrick Wahl released the following statement:
FINALLY! JUSTICE FOR JOSEPH — AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!
I’m very happy to report that the Brandywine School District and my family have settled our differences. I would like to thank the Brandywine School District for all of the work they’ve done to improve policies and to prevent the situation that occurred with my family from ever happening again. At their heart, these changes recognize that “exclusionary discipline” — out-of-school suspensions and expulsions which deny children their property right to a free education — must not be doled out cavalierly, and should be treated with all the seriousness and due process that denying this property right merits.
I said that Joseph’s suspension would not stand. It fell. I said that policies would be changed. They have been. And I said that Delaware’s “Zero Tolerance” laws which tie the hands of school administrators must go. They’re next.
As a result of Joseph’s case, the District has already created and implemented a new, mandatory training program for administrators regarding student rights, due process, what reasonable suspicion is and what it isn’t, how to conduct searches properly, and what the grievance processes are should a student or parent feel treated unfairly. They have fixed their Defiance Policy, clarifying that students can refuse certain requests without fear of punishment. Students will know why they are being searched and absent an immediate threat, students will be allowed to await their parent before any individualized search of their person or personal possessions.
Whenever a student is suspended from school, he or she will be given a form that is now truly informative, even including the contact information for any police officer who has been notified. No parent need lay awake ever again worrying that his child is under criminal investigation, and without any way to find out the status of that investigation. Steps to appeal the suspension are now spelled out on this very form, as is notification of any right to stay in school during an appeal process.
Even more importantly, the District will issue a position statement opposing “Zero Tolerance” laws and calling for our legislators to give our school administrators the ability to address disciplinary issues on a case by case basis. The District vows to lobby for this discretion. Schools breaking their silence on this issue is exactly what’s needed to get our legislators to reform bad law.
Remember when the Christina School District expelled the third-grader whose grandmother had sent a birthday cake and a knife with which to cut it to the school? The teacher used the knife, then reported the girl to the administration for having brought a dangerous weapon to the school. This mind-boggling case led to Delaware amending a law and giving school districts the ability to consider the circumstances when making expulsion decisions. That same law must now be amended once more, this time to include suspension decisions. It is a very simple change to make.
Out-of-school suspensions for first-time, unintentional offenses are especially harmful to the marginal, at-risk student. How many disciplinary issues would be better handled by an in-school suspension, where the offender can be assigned educational tasks like writing an essay about his behavior, performing some service around the school, and perhaps apologizing in front of an assembly? If there is no investigation as to who started a fight, are we punishing the victim and turning a blind eye to bullying?
Case by case does not mean weak! On the contrary, when a punishment does not fit the offense, students learn not about justice but about injustice. Students do not turn in found contraband, because they fear, correctly, that doing so will get them punished. They learn to subvert rules and policies and to have no respect for authority.
How long will Delaware schools be forced to treat plastic knives the same way they treat guns? How long are we going to keep pretending that the Advil a student inadvertently brings to school might as well have been cocaine? What happens when a student from a broken home, already feeling that school may not be the place for him, is told he is not welcome on school grounds or in school activities for a week? How does further alienating him from the school advance his education or that of others? It’s time we end the criminalization of childish mistakes. Zero tolerance policies, too, will fall.
Thank you very much to all of you for your support. Community involvement is essential if our schools are to thrive.
Oh, and one more thing.
I’m 51 years old and starting law school at Widener in the fall!
Hey, Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78 years old!
Wahl was not alone in issuing a statement. The district released the following language concerning the issue:
The District appreciates Joseph Wahl raising awareness of potential imperfections in the Defiance, Search and Seizure, and Due Process provisions in our Student Code of Conduct. While we admit no liability, we have used Joseph’s situation as a learning opportunity and have made substantive changes to the District’s policies, procedures, and practices including changes to our Student Code of Conduct. We have also implemented safeguards to ensure teachers, administrators, and other school employees are properly trained regarding the students’ rights. These revised provisions are available on the District’s Facebook page, website and will be printed in the next printed version of the Student Code of Conduct. Faculty and staff will be receiving training on these revised procedures.”
It looks like Brandywine’s zero tolerance policy will become a thing of the past. All Delaware school districts should get rid of these obscene policies. Our General Assembly should do whatever it takes to make them extinct as well. While no one wants a Columbine situation at our schools, there is such a thing as taking things too far. Zero tolerance results in situations exactly like what Joseph Wahl went through.
Never underestimate the will and resolve of a parent when something doesn’t feel quite right. Wahl fought the district, the Brandywine Board of Education, took it to the State Board of Education, had a FOIA complaint ruled in his son’s favor with the Delaware Department of Justice, and filed suit. Some have said he didn’t have to do this, but look at the results. He got the district to change a policy. That is not an easy thing to do, especially when dealing with a discipline issue. I salute Wahl for his perseverance.
If Wahl does become a lawyer, I can only imagine what opposing attorneys would go through in a courtroom if this case was any indication.
To follow the storyline of Wahl v. Brandywine, please go to the following links. It looks like all of Wahl’s Youtube videos are no longer viewable.
A group of parents demanded answers today from Red Clay Consolidated School District officials regarding the suspension of the basketball team from their last game and the playoffs. As I wrote yesterday, the team was suspended when they got off their bench at the end of a game after they were told not to. Allegations of racial slurs have been central to this matter but neither Red Clay or Delaware Military Academy have said anything in an official capacity that these epithets came out despite numerous witnesses coming forward on Facebook, comments on Delaware Online, and witnesses that have come forward to Red Clay officials. Now those parents are demanding the suspension decision be rescinded based on what they are perceiving to be a lack of due process based on policies within Red Clay. The following letter was sent to the district today. As well, Red Clay board member Adriana Bohm asked the district to rescind their decision.
**Updated, 4:25pm: According to The News Journal, the district may reconsider the team’s suspension for their remaining game and the playoffs. Still no response from Commandant Pullella at Delaware Military Academy.
I had an email forwarded to me this evening concerning an incident at Newark Charter School earlier this week. While checking to see if something happened, I found the News Journal already covered this. But what the News Journal didn’t publish was the email Newark Charter School’s Greg Meece sent to the parents about the altercation between a teacher and a student. You can see that below. But I have several dozen questions about this incident which didn’t even come up in the article. While I respect the fact that Meece can’t talk about the incident because it involves an employee, the comments on the News Journal article spin many different tales…
He said the incident was in a classroom earlier this week and involved a female high school student and teacher in a physical altercation over a cell phone. He added the cell phone did not belong to the student. Meece said neither was at school Friday, but no formal disciplinary action has been taken at this time.
Excuse me? A teacher has a physical altercation with a student and NO arrest was made? Seriously? Since when can a teacher have ANY type of physical altercation with a student? Has the student and teacher been out of school all week? Where is the due process for the student and the teacher if NO formal disciplinary action has been taken at this time? Was “informal” disciplinary action taken?
This is the definition of a physical altercation, with certain words bolded for emphasis:
A physical altercation is defined as being an argument, dispute or altercation that involves force or physical aggression. Physical altercations differ from verbal altercations because physical contact is involved. These types of disputes are sometimes referred to as fights and may legally qualify as battery.
A peaceful gathering? Maybe for the students, but according to this commenter on Facebook, the school wasn’t too happy about it…
That is a very different yarn than the one spun by Greg Meece in his email to the parents and the News Journal:
“The principal of our building spoke to the students and thanked them for their voices and being heard,” Meece said.
What happens at Newark Charter Schools stays at Newark Charter School… until a student and a teacher have a physical altercation that is. I don’t know why Newark Charter School treats itself like it is an isolated school cut off from the rest of the state. How much goes on there that the public has no clue about? If someone didn’t tip off the News Journal or myself on this, who would have known? But we see teachers getting arrested in Delaware. For more egregious things than this, but it happens. Perhaps the teacher was defending herself. But according to the above commenter, it was all a lie. If there was any physical force involved, were the police notified? The Senate Bill which minimizes when the police are called, Senate Bill 207, passed in the Delaware General Assembly this year, but it was very specific in its language to specify “between students”. It did not mention staff members. Which means Newark Charter School, if they did not notify the police, may have broken the law. Whether it was a student or a teacher, if the matter became physical, they are legally obligated to do so. Why didn’t the News Journal question that aspect of the story?
Scandals? Sweeping things under the rug? I thought NCS was this model of good behavior and nothing happened there…
It is hard to believe this particular commenter in one aspect. If this happened Monday, there is no possible way the parents could have sued the teacher in four days. They may have talked to an attorney, but nothing moves that fast. But they are absolutely right that students should have a voice. The threats coming out of the administration when students were having a peaceful sit-in could have been treated with more respect if the above commenter’s comments are true.
What does Newark Charter School’s code of conduct say about this kind of incident? It doesn’t reference this specific type of situation, but it does say this:
Referral to Police Agency is required for students who intentionally and offensively touch a staff member who is attempting to break up a fight or who is attempting to keep a student from injuring him/herself or others. Recommendation for expulsion may be considered.
But they do reference House Bill 322, which the Delaware General Assembly passed in 1997:
In addition to any action taken by school officials, the school will comply with the notification requirements of H.B. 322 which includes notification of police.
This was in a section that talked about fighting. I hate to keep beating on the same drum, but if this was an incident that was so minor, why would Meece refer to it as a “physical altercation” which has a very definitive legal meaning?
Are parents allowed to discuss this incident? On the closed to members only NCS Parents Facebook page, it was a huge topic of discussion this week until the moderator deleted all the comments about it to protect the identity of the student and the teacher. Even though all the parents already knew about it. This was reported to me by a few parents of students who belong to that page.
Newark Charter School needs to be more open and honest with parents about situations, instead of putting on an “everything’s fine” face with the News Journal. There was a lot Meece could have talked about with this article, but I’ve always been told Meece is a very smart man and chooses his words very carefully. But no public school receiving taxpayer dollars should think they can isolate themselves from transparency. They aren’t North Korea.
I’ve heard of many teachers at NCS getting fired with no form of due process whatsoever. Delaware charter schools do not have teacher unions which, in this case, would have given the teacher protection if they were fired over this. But we will most likely never know because of the isolationist mindset coming from this school…
Yes, there will be two parts to this. Part 1 represents about 60% of the question and answer session from the Christina School District Legislative Briefing on the charter school funding issue. If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to read this post first as it has the presentation Christina Chief Financial Officer Bob Silber gave to legislators and members of the public at the meeting this morning. It could be difficult to understand everything in these questions until you read that first.
Welcome back to those who left. Without further ado, here it is:
Monica Moriak (member of Christina’s Citizens Budget Oversight Committee): The district did not mean to exclude something specific? They noticed that in 2014 you were not including the 10 cent Referendum in the financial position report because you did not see that as something you could use for anything and that’s when they noticed that and so that’s when they decided, “Ooo, we need a different number” so Dr. Meece walked away from the charter bill? Is that when that got separated because you used a different number?
Robert Silber (Christina’s Chief Financial Officer): Yes, for those of you who didn’t ask the question, I’ll repeat. In 2014, the Department of Education recognized that there are, at least for the Christina School District, there are three series of numbers that are used or assigned to our district: 9100 series, 9800 series, and 9900 series. The 9100 series and the 9900 series are dollars that are excluded, the 9800 series are dollars that are included. If I take a look at… well, why don’t I do it this way… our Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee, about a year or two ago, as the district started having its financial challenges, started asking the district to provide information on a monthly basis, focused on what our local unrestricted expenditures are. So every month, we prepare financial statements that are unique within the state, that also include a breakdown of what we know to be excluded, and what we know to be included. It’s a very simple issue- 9800, included, and everything else, excluded. And last year, as an example, when you look at FY2015’s financial results, not (FY)16’s, but 15’s financial report, and we take a look at what was our total spend of what we consider to be unrestricted local dollars, that number matched to the penny to what the Department of Education calculated on their form what the local cost per student should be. So that was validation, if you will, of the process over the years. The components, as to what goes where, again, I can’t answer. But specifically, there was a question raised, I believe, because one of the goals of the Department of Education is to take the process that they use today and automate it. But if you’re gonna automate something to say I want to include certain numbers and exclude certain numbers, you’re going to want to make sure that everything that is in that included bucket all have a common number that you can pull from. So any appropriation beginning with 98, which is included, anything that begins with something other than 98, would be excluded. That’s what their goal is.
State Rep. John Kowalko: Yes, a couple questions. I appreciate the effort you put into this the effort to explain this. My concern is this- as we’re dealing with a very complex issue, which has a parameter of a coding issue put in place. You have to have an understand the finances of a public schools in Delaware, and it’s very complex, very complicated, with coding issues that are not always as capturing of the actual expenditure as we would like to see happen. But with that being said, in 2014 the DOE asked you to, more or less, justify some things and if it wasn’t justified, they were going to ask you to put a separate code for that mechanism in place. Do I have that right?
Silber: I would probably express it another way. In 2014, every district, three times a year, is required to do a financial position report. I don’t know what triggered their follow-up questions. In 2014, when Christina School District submitted theirs, we showed, without any question, that we had sufficient resources to pass the test. So the question the Dept. of Education had on a response may have been directed towards, or may have been triggered, by the district that may not have been able to reflect that they are in good standing, that I don’t know. All I know is that the question was raised. The question was raised by the Department, “Why are you not listing all of these appropriations? You’re giving me a short list.” And the answer came back, for any reason, from different individuals, ours was “We’re restricted on certain funds.”
Kowalko: I’m going to pass forward now to recent events and the new determinations, that apparently a decision was made August 24th, this stands out, the districts were informed of a meeting with select Superintendents, the key word is select Superintendents, and business managers would not be included. It’s mind-boggling to me that your office, Christina and the other districts I’m sure, would be offering a path forward, they would have done it in a collaborative process. But it seems to me that DOE has no intention of collaborating. When they asked you for a report, a spreadsheet of how you do it, then they make a final determination at the end of that tunnel without having said to you, “We question this or we think this or can you justify that”, to me, that’s almost a ruling, a one-sided rule that is not going to benefit the districts and/or public school systems. I know you don’t have the answer to that. I’ve asked Secretary Godowsky for a timeline and dates of who was at these meetings. I will follow-up, because his answer to me yesterday was very, very shallow. It was “I’m going to send out the report to everybody to explain the process.” This doesn’t ask for an explanation of the process. I know the process. I talked to Bob (Silber) for an hour yesterday. This asks for a timeline of who was involved when the decision-making, from May on to this point in time, and why were they excluding people that have knowledge, that actually put their pencils on paper. I find this to be an almost disgraceful performance by the DOE and I’m not here to pontificate, but I am angry that they tarnished the reputation of a district that has more challenges than any district in this state probably, cause of the special needs, the impoverished of the community. But that’s not to give an excuse here, but you have made remarkable strides and I really, really challenge any Department within this state that would unilaterally decide that they’re going to impose or question something without asking you for an answer. This is a ridiculous way for us to operate on behalf of our children. And I’m tired of it and I intend to follow-up with Secretary Godowsky. If I don’t get an answer for this, and his answer isn’t going to be responsive, I do have another letter prepared that I will release to the press and I’m telling you, it does not look good. I would ask the Chair of the Education Committee, and to think over it, the fact that we don’t get an appropriate answer to where we are today and how this embellishment of no facts or answers has caused a situation of turmoil, an anxiety, that has pitted charter schools against traditional schools for dollars. I’ve asked the Chair to consider that if we don’t get a response to hold hearings on this charge. Between now and then there should be a corrective course by DOE. This is not a one-sided issue. This is not something that you’re on the defense about. This is about due process. There has been no due process in the immediate discussion of this from May till now. No due process.
Kevin Ohlandt (“The Blogger” or “Sneaky Snake Blogger” as one person called me last week): I have two questions. Newark Charter School referenced a meeting with Dr. Andrzejewski that would be taking place in regards to this subject, the local cost per pupil. This is more for Dr. Andrzejewski. Were you aware that this would be coming up, I guess, last March or April?
Dr. Robert Andrzejewski (Acting Superintendent of Christina): I never met with the board of Newark Charter. I met with Greg Meece on the referendum. This issue we talked about has an ongoing history. And that was it. At some point, I offered to meet before the Board President to go through a similar thing.
Ohlandt: Senator Sokola had mentioned, in an email, something about funds going from $700,000 in 2011 to $9.2 million last year or the year before. Do you know what that was about and why he would choose that flashpoint in time to use in this issue?
Silber: I’ll go back to a couple of comments. If you take a look at the composition of the students within the Christina School District, and almost any other district in the state and certainly with charter schools, you’ll see that Christina School District has a significant higher population of students with special needs, not just within special programs but within our district. I can take a look at what has transpired over the five to seven years. There has been a very steady increase in our tuition tax rate as a result of needing to generate those dollars. Some of those programs, as I said, are unique to Christina. But where the Dept. of Education chooses to put those dollars… if it were my call, it would in that tuition fund. But if their putting it into the district specific program bucket, you’re going to see those dollars increase dramatically. I have no knowledge as to what causes them (the DOE) to put something in bucket A versus bucket B. All I can do is suggest that during one of those years, as I took a quick look over the past five years, we had a drop in dollars over on the tuition side. I can tell you, or our board can tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever generated a financial statement for the district that has shown our tuition related expenses were for students with special needs has gone down. If anything, it has consistently gone up. That’s a triggering question of… I don’t know who does the reports. I can’t direct you to go see Bob Silber at the Dept. of Education. That is their report. They should be held accountable and transparent for what’s behind those dollars. I would love to be able to see it to argue it, to challenge what should go to any one bucket if you will, but that’s obviously not a part of the process with the Department.
Bill Doolittle (Special Education Advocate): Did the Department ever provide a full list of the accounting codes they intend to move to 9800 or 98 class and the amounts for each district in those classes?
Silber: For this year?
Doolittle: For their initial intent.
Silber: No. The only thing that has transpired was, as I said at the beginning, there was a request from the Department, “Every business manager go through this list.” And they generated, when they sent that list out, probably, if I had to guess, the top 15 rows were items that they specifically said, “Yup, these are items we already know the answers to. So for Christina, the other 254, you have to tell us one way or the other.” I think one of the important things to recognize is that every organization, it doesn’t matter if it’s a charter school, a traditional public school, or a business entity, or any organization. You have to make decisions around budgets and you have to be able to depend upon systems associated with that. So if there are variations, something that’s going to happen that creates a wild swing, you can’t afford those things to occur. In the public education arena, one of the issues that we tried to bring to the Secretary’s attention, it was the longer you delay the communication around this process or the challenges to the charter schools, the less informed they’re going to be. Every charter school should have been told, by the Department of Education, that for FY2017, this current school year, every one should have been informed that expect your local cost per students for the Christina School District to go down this year. Because the Christina School District had reduced our local unrestricted expenditures by about $9 million dollars last year. The department was aware of it. Did the Department inform the charter community, “Brace yourself, this is coming”? At our board meetings, we clearly articulated our charter bills for last year were predicated upon the prior year. They will not feel the pain we are feeling this year until the following year. Just as when we are successful in an operating referendum, the monies don’t hit until the following year and then the following year after that from a sequencing perspective route how the law recognizes what local costs per student are. I don’t know if that answered your question.
Doolittle: I think the answer is DOE still hasn’t told everybody what they’re doing.
Silber: No, no. They’re given a list and some of the response around some of the detail had to be pulled. So, as an example, in this list that they provided to us initially, they said MCI, minor capital improvements, would be included. Well the language associated with match taxes forever has been bundled with MCI. They were called MCI/Match. And our tax warrants, all districts, up and down the state, are predicated on its match dollars. It includes funds that are match for minor capital, and match for these unique legislative driven programs. It wasn’t until we asked a question that they said, “No, all of those programs that legislators approved and have been included for the past 14-17 years, they’re no longer going to excluded, they’re going to be included.”
(Editor’s note: I know for a fact that any charter school that went through a charter renewal or modification process with the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE in FY2016 was told to expect this.)
Kowalko: A follow-up, on that very statement you just made. They said that, without you having any ability to or chance to retort? They assumed that, presumed that, decided that? Did they say why it shouldn’t be done that way?
Silber: Their answer, not to me but to another business manager, was that they believe they are interpreting the code correctly.
Kowalko: I just want to clarify one thing for Mr. Ohlandt. Correct me if I’m right here, or wrong here. There is not a 98110 that had several hundred thousand dollars in it that now has $9 million in it?
Silber: It’s not that simple. No.
Kowalko: Cause that seemed to be the message…
Kowalko: …that was put out there and resonated. I just wanted you to confirm it. Thank you.
State Rep. Michael Ramone: First off, thank you. This is very helpful. It definitely solidifies and clarifies the perception, at least for us, to be able to speak intelligently to people and say what the heck is going on. You just said the interpretation, interpreting the code correctly, and to me, it seems the biggest issue is not only communication, which I agree with Representative Kowalko, this should have been handled differently with different people at the table. Whatever. It is what it is. I think communication could have been better. I think clarity is an issue, and the word that you use- interpretation- it sounds to me that the interpretation that used to be the interpretation is a different interpretation today. I’m not looking for a comment. It’s my perception of what I’m hearing. So, I guess, to me, a big question, and maybe the dialogue should go to the Chair and the Co-Chair of the Education (Committee), do we need to do anything, in your opinion, as the guy doing the work, as the manager’s opinion to clarify the current law so their isn’t, quote, an “interpretation” maybe one year that would be a different interpretation next year. Or even have new laws added. And I’m not asking you to answer that today, I’m saying that’s a discussion we need to have. But a point of clarity I do need to hear, because I don’t know if I’m interpreting what you wrote or what you said here, but right or wrong, is there an issue or was there an issue with the referendums that were passed in the specific designation of how much tax money, or the referendum was going to be added? Are you suggesting that there is a question of how we’re passing or wording the referendums we are passing or not? Because the way I’m reading that it seems like some of the lack of clarity, or quote “interpretation”, that they have seems to stem from the verbiage as its written in the referendum that was passed or am I interpreting that wrong?
Silber: I would argue that, again I would preface that by saying I didn’t author the document, the document that was put before the community was specific. It said “You will use the money for the following programs. Let me give you a shift for a moment. It didn’t come to pass but you can use this to crystalize the thought. This last year, Brandywine School District, as some of you may know, ran a referendum that failed. That referendum had multiple parts to it. One of the parts of that referendum was, “Will you guys give us additional money so that we can build turf fields?” A very specific request. And if the answer to that question had been yes, that money coming into the Brandywine School District, for the years that they were asking those dollars to follow, could not have been used to pay for teacher salaries or higher administrators. It would have been used for the purpose intended by that referendum, similar to the referendum that we had in 2003. The interpretation that I would get from the actions of the Department of Education, as I’m trying to do today, would suggest that once those dollars came in, that were a very specific purpose for Brandywine, to be used to build a turf field, would then the following year have to come out of their discretionary funds to help support their charters. And I don’t believe the intent, it is very clear, we’re giving you money to build this, or we’re giving Christina School District opportunities for these programs. There are a number of ways, a number of questions, in our perspective that go around the Christina School District and programs that are unique to the Christina School District. A question could be asked when a parent chooses not to go to the Christina School District and chooses to go to the Red Clay School District through the choice process, are they leaving the programs of the Christina School District they took advantage of, if they leave the Christina School District to go to Kuumba Academy, then yes, they are leaving the programs of the Christina School District. So in one respect, to look at those unique programs and say “they’re unique to the Christina School District,” and the taxpayers agree to that. That’s why it’s restricted to you for these particular purposes. What the Secretary and the Dept. of Education are suggesting is that those dollars that are restricted over here move over here as an unrestricted basis. And what I’m suggesting is that in 2014, when the Department said, “No, they’re restricted,” they made a decision that it couldn’t move over here to unrestricted. I’m not necessarily sure that it’s about wording or it’s about interpretation. I think it’s more around intent. Is the intent to find ways to increase the amount of money flowing to a charter school as opposed to what should? That’s an intent question that my personal perception may not necessarily… Everything I’ve tried to share with you today is a statement of fact.
Ramone: Let me just follow-up, because what I think, I understand what you’re saying. My question is, the monies, the referendum…First of all, referendums are, we have to find a different way to… they’re not working. I think everyone in this room agrees on that. But that’s the beast we’re dealing with. In order to make them more plausible, more acceptable, more digestible, for people to have more clarity on the taxes you’re raising that might pass in the referendum, you started become very creative in the referendum requests, which I actually thought was a good thing. All I’m asking, is in that creativity of making very specific… letting people have a better idea of where the money was going and how it was going… was there a lapse in our legislative body in not clarifying the laws or doing something that makes something more specific, and I don’t mean to say it this way, but then yes, it would take discretion away from the Secretary of Education and whether it’s Joe Schmo today or Peter John tomorrow, but they would have less discretion, it’s clear, it’s a law, we should, is there something that we should be considering or would you all review whether there is something we should be considering to give clarity so you don’t have any subjectivity to these decisions that could be a little chaotic when you tell everybody that one year it’s one way, the next month (meant year) it should be…
Silber: The best way that I can answer your question Representative, is to state the following- The Dept. of Education this year has taken actions that are substantially different than the actions that they’ve taken for any number of years. The laws that are on the books for the past 14-17 years didn’t seem to have that same degree of challenge. Something triggered this year that all of a sudden those individuals that are currently at the Dept. of Education are now saying that something’s wrong. So if there is a question associated with that, again, what was the impetus behind making the change? Is there someone saying, “Okay, here’s a flaw, I’m going to take advantage of it?” Again, I come back to the initial statement. The district does not make these decisions. The district does not define, the State has to define process to prevent me from doing just that.
Part 2 will be up later tonight or tomorrow morning! Stay tuned!
The approach the Department is taking shortchanges our most vulnerable children and puts Delaware’s future at risk.
At the end of last year, the Delaware Department of Education proposed amendments to Regulation 616 concerning due process procedures for alternative placement meetings and expulsion hearings. In a nutshell, this regulation would make it easier to strip away the rights of students and parents in regards to school discipline. This prompted a wave of negative comments from many concerned organizations and citizens in Delaware. It started with the Smyrna School District Assistant Superintendent and went from there. The State Board of Education tabled the changes at their December, 2016 board meeting. Now Reg. 616 is back. It was published in the June Registrar of Regulations.
As I wrote last year when this god awful and horrible regulation was introduced, this bill appears to be tailor made for charter schools. To kick out the unwanted. Why does the Delaware DOE and State Board of Education even consider this kind of nonsense? Especially since there were laws passed dealing with this exact sort of thing. Furthermore, Senate Bill 239, if passed, would have been the opposite of this bill. I’m hearing this bill will come back roaring in the 149th General Assembly. It was a question of timing for why it didn’t pass this spring.
Disproportionality is a big word these days and it needs to be. We are seeing the results of what can happen when the pendulum swings too far in one direction. The Delaware DOE and the State Board are taking a huge step backwards in a time when they should be getting out of this mindset. If our charter schools want to completely change the direction of Delaware schools while everyone else is saying no, perhaps the time has come for them to change. This isn’t Little House on the Prairie anymore. They need to stop relying on funding from the state and the citizens who actually produce the funding for them to run as quasi-corporations and become what they should have been in the first place: private schools charging tuition. Let’s see how successful they are then when they aren’t using their “autonomy” when it suits them best and then ditching that concept when things aren’t equal.
ACLU COMMENTS ON REGULATION 616
ATTORNEY GENERAL’S COMMENTS ON REGULATION 616
DSCYF COMMENTS ON REGULATION 616
GACEC COMMENTS ON REGULATION 616
SCPD COMMENTS ON REGULATION 616
The United States Department of Education sent a “guidance letter” to state local education agencies (school districts) regarding Response to Intervention (RTI) and Child Find. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) sent the letter on April 29th. It reminds pre-schools that they are responsible for child find. This means the local school district is responsible for paying for a special education evaluation. A pre-school can’t use RTI if a special education evaluation is needed prior to the RTI process. This is all great except for that one tiny, itty-bitty, little thing: Who pays for it?
The US DOE had their toddler Race to the Top come out a year after the regular one and it gave states tons of money to make great pre-schools. The funding for this runs out on June 30th of this year. Which is why Delaware, Governor Jack Markell requested over 11 million bucks to keep these programs going. But the big problem with this is school districts aren’t allocated more money to pay for all these special education evaluations. So guess where that money comes from? The local funds a school district gets from school taxes. From YOUR property taxes. Guess how much the charters pay for those pre-school evaluations? Not one cent. In fact, Delaware is a state where there is no basic special education funding from the state share of funds for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade at any public school. But that’s okay, they can afford it? Right? Yeah, let’s not go down that road.
If so many Delaware schools lack the ability to give special education services to kids in Kindergarten to 3rd grade because they just so happen to not get any extra funds for that, how is that going to work with pre-schools? This letter, on the surface, looks great. Big government is looking out for the kids with disabilities. But who holds them accountable when they have NEVER given the full amount of funding to states under IDEA? They give what, 10-13%, and they want to be the enforcer of all things special education? What a crock!
Response to Intervention is the biggest joke of them all. It is a crutch for Delaware schools to NOT give special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade. What they are doing is messing up kids big time. Whether it is a school district or a charter, and unless they are listed in the “intensive” or “complex” category, you are better off letting your basic special education child sit in a pile of needles cause that’s what it’s like for them. Imagine having a bad infection and someone says “let’s try this technique that will take a while to fight it”. Will the infection get better? Nope. It’s going to rot and fester. That’s what happens to the minds of children with neurological disabilities who don’t get the right special education. But it’s alright, because Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware DOE says Delaware’s due process system is more than fair. Yeah, I can see how that scares the hell out of Delaware schools into doing the right thing…
The US DOE are a bunch of hypocrites. They endorse things like social impact bonds which is when a company “invests” in an education setting (like a pre-school) for a certain goal. In Utah, that went swimmingly when Goldman Sachs had a long-running program they “invested” in. The goal: only 1% of 200 kids would need long-term special education services in regular school after they put in the “necessary” programs at the pre-school to “help” these kids. I guess they didn’t get the memo that disabilities are NEUROLOGICAL which is why programs like this are complete and utter crap. In Delaware, the average for students with disabilities in public schools hovers around 13.5 to 15%. But with genius banks getting their hooks in, only 1% would! Goldman Sachs got a return on their “investment” because of the “success” to the tune of $277,000. I don’t see OSEP sending financial institutions these letters…
To read the latest “guidance” (which essentially means do as we say or we are going to make you sorry) letter from US DOE/OSEP, read below.
School climate is becoming an issue again. We have a couple bills pending in the Delaware General Assembly. We had a brutal murder at one of our high schools two and a half weeks ago. What if we all got together and really took a look at all of this? We did that 24 years ago in Delaware. There are some interesting suggestions in here. If you are confused about the Department of Public Instruction, don’t worry. This is the former Delaware Department of Education.
Yesterday, Saranac Spencer with the News Journal posted an article about the ongoing litigation against the Brandywine School District. Patrick Wahl, the father of a son in the district, filed a lawsuit against the district earlier this year based on due process issues arising from a school suspension and what Wahl believes was a violation of due process rights regarding a search and seizure. This is the first time, to my knowledge, Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick has publicly commented on the matter. Today, Patrick Wahl issued a response to Holodick’s challenge to Wahl.
The News Journal reported this exchange at the end of their article:
So far, Wahl has spent nearly $50,000 on attorney fees, he said, and he is seeking to recover that money through the lawsuit. He is also seeking damages.
“The district questions Mr. Wahl’s motives as he continues to pursue this issue,” Holodick said in his statement. “He has stated in social media venues that he is concerned for the taxpayer as this lawsuit could result in the district spending money on attorneys, a possible settlement or damages. If that is indeed the case, the district hopes that Mr. Wahl will sign a binding agreement to donate any monetary rewards gained from this lawsuit to a local, deserving non-profit organization, such as the Brandywine Education Foundation, which provides students scholarships and teacher grants.”
Wahl responded that he is eager to talk to the district about what he is looking for – ultimately, he said, he wants to see changes in policy regarding reasonable searches of students.
“They could have ended this a year ago,” Wahl said. “They could end it today.”
Wahl’s rebuttal to Holodick’s challenge appeared on his Facebook account today. I did ask Mr. Wahl if it was okay to publish this along with the personal information included. He said it was all public.
AN OPEN LETTER TO BRANDYWINE SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT DR. MARK HOLODICK
Please LIKE and SHARE so this message FINDS ITS WAY to Dr. Holodick!!!
Dear Dr. Holodick,
I read with interest your confusing comments to the News Journal, linked below.
You say, on the one hand, that you are “confident that upon the examination of the accurate record through the litigation, Mr. Wahl’s claims will be disproven.”
But on the other hand, you hope that I will sign “a binding agreement to donate any monetary rewards gained from this lawsuit to a local, deserving non-profit organization, such as the Brandywine Education Foundation, which provides students scholarships and teacher grants.”
Which is it? You’re confident that my claims will be disproven? Or you fear I’ll be awarded monetary damages? Make up your mind.
This confidence that you have — it’s the same confidence you had before the State Board hearing, right?
Dr. Holodick, you lost at the State Board. Do you remember why?
The State Board decided against you because, despite their repeated requests, you produced NO RECORDS.
Now, you say you in fact have an “accurate record” that you’ve been saving, apparently, for the courts.
Your assertion begs the question:
IF YOU HAVE THESE RECORDS, WHY DID YOU NOT PRODUCE THEM FOR THE STATE BOARD?
Did you not have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayer to produce them then upon the repeated requests of the State Board? And if you did not have them then, why did you instead use district funds to pay district counsel to argue the case you knew you would lose? Why did you not simply expunge the record, which is all we were asking for at that time? Were you just trying to exhaust and bankrupt me, hoping I would go away? Did you think the State Board was in the tank for you? Why does a parent have to go to court to see these records?
Do you understand that when the State Board said that the Brandywine School Board violated the law, they mean that YOU violated the law, Dr. Holodick? Aren’t you the Brandywine School Board’s EXECUTIVE SECRETARY? What’s going on with your board, Dr. Holodick?
Taxpayers deserve your explanation TODAY. What kind of records have you suddenly come up with, and why did you withhold them from the State Board? Are you really going to make me produce witnesses who you already know will disprove your claims? As you wish.
You made me prove that you broke the law at the State Board hearing, forcing me to hire a lawyer to get the due process to which I was entitled. So I did. I was right. You violated the law. So now the question is, how do I get those attorney fees covered which I should never have had to pay in the first place? Dr. Holodick? Hello? Are you still there?
I am EAGER to meet with you, WITH OR WITHOUT OUR LAWYERS, to discuss this BINDING AGREEMENT you suggest. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my cell phone is (302) 229-9520. I’m waiting to hear from you for this meeting that so far, you’ve refused me — in violation of your own Code of Conduct.
You circumvented the “Grievance Procedures When a Suspension Has Occurred” on page 65 when you sicced your lawyer on me instead. See that part where you were supposed to schedule a conference with me? You know, right before the “stay-put” provision stuff which allowed Joseph to stay in school, but which you also ignored? Oddly, hearing from district counsel Mr. McMackin as I did is never mentioned in these grievance procedures.
I am happy to discuss this binding agreement in which monetary awards will go to charity, but perhaps to the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit which provides legal services at no charge to students whose constitutional rights have been violated. I’m sure you understand that while I indeed have donated to the Brandywine Education Foundation in the past, I will never, ever do so again. I noticed that Mr. John Skrobot, President of the Brandywine School Board, is on the Board of Directors of the Brandywine Education Foundation. So you are asking that the money I’m awarded be donated to the very lawbreakers I’m suing. I’m going to pass.
But you know what else, Dr. Holodick? I’ve already thought about the taxpayer. That’s why I’m suing you personally, and not just in your official capacity. Did you notice that part of the complaint? I agree with you — damages should be paid by you, Mr. Rolph, and Mr. Simmons, and not by the taxpayer. After all, as Delaware’s #1 highest paid state employee, you take home a quarter million dollars a year. Will you sign a binding agreement that any damages I’m awarded will be paid by you personally and not by the taxpayer? Hey, no worries, right? After all, you are “confident that upon the examination of the accurate record through the litigation, Mr. Wahl’s claims will be disproven.”
Now, I do want to be accurate. Your actual pay is just under a quarter million a year — $246,071.52, to be exact. Mr. Rolph and Mr. Simmons make six figures as well, just like EVERY OTHER administrator in the entire Brandywine School District. I understand there are nearly 100 such six-figure administrators in the Brandywine School District.
Are you a good risk manager? Are you aware of the district’s exposure in this case? Was it a good use of taxpayer money when you fought all the way through the State Board? Did you receive competent counsel advising you simply to expunge the record instead as I had requested and as they eventually ordered anyway? Did you reject and overrule that counsel?
You’ve already wasted a great deal of taxpayer money fighting your losing case at the State Board, and you’re going to spend exponentially more taxpayer money fighting in court. That’s what’s costing the taxpayers, not the damages you’ll pay personally.
You also know this case has little or nothing to do with your zero tolerance policy for “knives of any sort,” and everything to do with the court’s zero tolerance policy, as each and every American should have, for violations of the Constitution and of due process.
You say you want to keep the school safe. The school was not made any safer when my son was banned from its premises for a full week. If you want to keep the school safe, as we all do, I have an idea. How about the administrators know the students? Why did Mr. Rolph not know the student he was looking for? Why did Mr. Rolph not know the student he found? Does that trouble you? What are you doing about it?
I look forward to hearing from you. Let’s both put our personal differences aside and do what’s best to fix what’s wrong in the school district and resolve this case. If you will treat me with respect rather than with the contempt you’ve shown me, I will reciprocate. Again, my email is email@example.com and my cell phone is (302) 229-9520. I will be letting everyone know whether your suggestion of a binding agreement between us was sincere or was merely empty posturing in which you “question the motives” of a parent of a student whose civil rights you violated, and whose right to due process you systematically suppressed.
All I can say is “Wow!” I can’t wait to see Dr. Holodick’s response. I would just like to extend an invitation that if Dr. Holodick wants to channel a response through this blog, I would be more than happy to give him the chance to air his side of the story.
This was a very busy week. I didn’t write as much, but what I put up on March 1st sucked the oxygen out of everything else on this blog. The Brandywine-Holodick-Wahl Saga is now my second most-read article on this blog. It jumped over a controverial Teach For America story from last summer and the Charter School of Wilmington due process article and my son’s first day of Common Core division homework. I knew the article would be big when I wrote it (actually, Pat Wahl did all of the hard work). But it is still read thousands of times each day. It has slowed down a bit since last Tuesday, but will it overtake Arne Duncan’s special education regulations from November 2014? That one had many parents of students with disabilities ticked off during Thanksgiving week that year. We shall see! The Brandywine due process story has a ways to go to reach the #1 spot, but it could do it. We shall see in the next week or next few weeks.
Patrick Wahl is taking the Brandywine School District to court. Last year, his son was suspended for a week. What makes this case fascinating is the fact that his son was punished for what amounts, in my opinion, to a wrongful search. Brandywine’s board made the situation even worse. I can now say this case and that case are the same one. This morning on Facebook, Joseph’s father announced the lawsuit. He gave me permission to copy his post. I could write about what happened, but it means more coming from his father. This is how I got my start in blogging, and I am more than happy to return the favor:
JUSTICE FOR JOSEPH: SUNLIGHT IS THE BEST DISINFECTANT Continue reading “Holodick & Brandywine Named In Lawsuit As Father Seeks Justice For Year Long Nightmare”
On Saturday, after I posted an article on Delaware Design-Lab High School’s major modification request, the Delaware DOE asked me to remove the parent complaints because of some student identifying information that was in that section of the article. The DOE has revised the complaints, so I am giving this its own article. Like I said in the original article, it is very disturbing to see this go on in any of our Delaware schools. It is more than obvious our new charters need much more training in discipline and due process…
I’ve been racking my brain on this for a long time now. If it isn’t financial abuse, it’s bad enrollment preferences. If it isn’t the DOE praising certain charter schools, it is a lack of due process.
I think what it comes down to is arrogance. We see that in traditional school districts as well, but what makes it so pronounced with the charters? Charters are smaller. When they make noise, everyone hears it or points it out. Nothing gets some Delawareans pissed off more than seeing some charters blatantly flaunting their admissions process. For others, it is the amount of money being wasted by school leaders and not making it to the classroom. But when a charter has issues, hearing or seeing the leaders defend problems that are so inherently wrong makes them look rather foolish.
Just about every charter school in Delaware, since I started this blog, had one of the above issues I mentioned since I started this blog back in June of 2014. Three charters have shut down, with another going down at the end of this year. When things go down at a charter, we often see the bulk of the parents defending the school as if they can do no wrong. Is it that they are blind to the facts or is the option of sending their child to a traditional school district so frightening for parents they are willing to overlook these infractions?
There are the true horror stories like Delaware Met and possibly Delaware Design-Lab High School. Brand new charters that don’t seem to have a clue how to run a school. And as we’ve seen time and time again, the DOE, with rare exceptions, doesn’t do anything until after that Wednesday in January when the choice window closes. We find out what they knew all this time, and the DOE gets away with it every single time.
What are we teaching our children? That it’s okay to send the more fortunate and the more knowledgeable to the “better” schools? That it doesn’t matter if you go to a school that is 98% African-American? That if you are “counseled out” of a charter it’s okay to be out of the system for over a month? Behind all of this is the shadow of standardized test scores. For all Delaware schools, including charters, this is the measurement over which the DOE’s judgment is severe. Many think the DOE is too charter friendly, but when there are issues, the DOE comes down on them like white on rice. Which is good, but had the DOE acted sooner in many of these situations things wouldn’t get as bad.
There are no easy answers or solutions to these issues. What we need is a culture change when it comes to charters. In the meantime, the war, yes, the war, continues. It bubbles over into every aspect of education in our state in one form or another.
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:
This regulation, in my view, is akin to a bunch of model rocket enthusiasts crafting a regulation for NASA astronauts governing their space missions.
I love this! I have never met the Assistant Superintendent of the Smyrna School District, but when I do I am certainly going to shake his hand! Thank you Patrik Williams! The below letter is in regards to a pending regulation coming before the State Board of Education at their meeting next week. It deals with “Uniform Due Process Procedures for Alternative Placement Meetings and Expulsion Hearings”. Mr. Williams definitely didn’t like the way this regulation was worded, but some of his comments had me rolling on the floor!
And to see the full regulation, please read below:
Only in Delaware…
Monday night is the Formal Review Public Hearing for the Delaware Met. It starts at 5pm at the Carvel State Building, on the 2nd floor. It should be easy to get to because it is right next to the school, across the street to the right of the school. This is the time to let the Delaware Department of Education and the world know what is really happening there. If you have been bullied, or your kid is not getting the special education they rightfully deserve, or you have not been given due process, or you just have some thoughts to get out, THIS IS THE TIME!!!! Do not let this opportunity go to waste!
Currently, no Delaware charter school teachers belong to any organized teacher unions. As a result, the charter school leaders are able to do whatever they want with teachers and due process is a bit of a joke. This could all change if charter school teachers join the union. I have seen many a charter school teacher fired for no reason other than they disagree with something a charter leader says. Boom! Just like that!
Last night, Red Clay Educators Association President Mike Matthews posted the following on Facebook:
Fascinating story of the day: In our Know Your Contract training today, the always wonderful Laura Rowe provided the attached state law regarding sick leave. We had some good discussion on this topic.
Totally UNRELATED to this morning’s training, I received three messages from charter school teachers who told me that they were told that they can take no more than seven sick days per year and that “the charter trumps state law.” From THREE different sources with the SAME story.
Wanna know their names? No way. My lips are sealed. You see why charter school teachers deserve some due process protections by the union? Constant. State. Of. Fear.
My suggestion to those charter teachers? Your school is breaking the law. Your fellow teachers must band together and take a stand. Solidarity. Strength in numbers. Let’s start organizing now. My number is 302-547-4774.
And any of you charter school leaders reading this who THINK you know who talks to me and you want to try and intimidate them? Think again. Ever since those two op-eds I wrote in The News Journal were published last year, teachers at a dozen charter schools have been regularly coming to me sharing horror stories just like this.
And he posted the following pictures:
When are charter school leaders and boards going to realize they don’t rule the universe? Just because you have a charter doesn’t mean you are immune to state laws and regulations. Charter school teachers deserve the same protection as regular traditional school district teachers. I don’t care what my stance is on charter schools in general, teachers are teachers no matter where you teach. What say you Delaware? Is this something you can get behind? I would love to hear from charter school teachers on this as well, and despite my post last week about a certain employee in the Townsend building, all communications or comments on this blog are confidential unless you play games with me over a long period of time!
This is the real deal here. I’ve received a ton of comments on my article from Sunday about Charter School of Wilmington, but the one I received today scared me. Not because of who it was, but what they wrote about. It sounds to me like Dr. Paoli has some major issues. I don’t care what anyone says, there is a way to treat students, and this is not it. Here’s the comment from CSW Student. I do know his real name, but I will not reveal it.
Abbie Maas is a 9 year old girl in Florida. Like any child, she wants the love of her parents most of all. Abbie has never done something that you and I take for granted. She has never spoken a single word. Abbie has Autism. Diagnosed at 2 years old, her parents have been told she is brilliant, as many autistic children are.
Abbie’s parents went after her school due to a lack of special education services for their daughter. The parents won, but the school district doesn’t even offer the kind of services that Abbie needs at this point in time. It is between a private school or the school district would have to provide for a one-on-one paraprofessional. Abbie needs the best possible accommodations for her disability. That would be in the private school.
Below is from the parents Facebook page, Big Fight For A Little Girl. No child should ever be in this position, nor should the parents. To all of you reading this, please take the time tomorrow morning to call the below phone number to support Abigail Maass.
This is as of earlier this evening. Please call Mrs. Gail Roberts tomorrow with the below information.
In a hurricane, everything is wild and chaotic. Winds are fierce, rain is massive, and destruction looms. Many people flee, but some stay hoping for the best. Homes are destroyed, roads are flooded, and lives are frequently lost. In the middle of a hurricane, everything is calm. It can sometimes be sunny, and rain may not be present and it can be viewed as a moment of peace. The eye is the center of the hurricane, and everything that happens is a result of the eye. This is the Delaware Department of Education in regards to special education. Continue reading “Delaware DOE: The Eye of the Hurricane in Special Education”