The September 7th Discipline Hearing for Student J at Smyrna Middle School had two very big witnesses about to testify. After Smyrna Middle School Associate Principal John Camponelli and Principal Steve Gott gave their testimony, it was time for the Smyrna School District Assistant Superintendent Patrik Williams to testify in the discipline hearing against student J. J’s entire future depended on what happened next. Continue reading
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
Five and a half months went by after the incident in the home economics room. J took the Smarter Balanced Assessment along with the rest of his 7th grade peers at Smyrna Middle School. On April 20th, J and his friends were walking down the hall on their way to the school bus. Something happened that would alter the course of J’s future… Continue reading
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 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 State Representative Mike Ramone’s House Bill 261 may cause even more controversy than the war of the charter school audit bills! Ramone’s proposed legislation would protect charter schools if they don’t get timely records from school districts when an expelled student or a student who was placed in an alternative school setting for disciplinary reasons choices into a Delaware charter school. The bill would make it so the local school district would have to pick up any costs for that student. This bill is assuredly in response to what happened at Delaware Met. Many students who went to the school were alleged to have been either expelled or came from an alternative school setting.
I see red flags all over this bill. I am already picturing charters not taking these students based on this information. The key word in this legislation is “applies”. How would a local school district know when a student applies to a charter? Of course it is the burden of the charter to request that information. It would be like applying for a new job and my old job would be responsible for proactively sending my references to the new job, prior to my even being accepted at the new job. Using the word “burden” in the synopsis of this bill makes it look like “Oh, the poor charters. The problems they have with those bothersome districts.”
Ramone, you are letting your charter bias shine through with this bill. This could put the stigmatism of “cherry-picking” to a whole new level! I understand the intent here, but this is NOT the way to do it. As well, the proof is in the pudding on whether or not records are sent. This is also a two-way street. Local districts do not always get records from charters in the allotted time period. If you want to further the tensions between districts and charters, this is a great way to go about it. I hope this bill dies a quick and sudden death in the House Education Committee…
On September 25th, I wrote the first Delaware Met article concerning the problems at the school. Many doubted the veracity of the article at first. I thought now would be a good time to give it the “separate fact from fiction” test.
Today, I got an email from someone about The Delaware Met closing next week.
The school did not close the last week of September, but their board considered it at their 9/28 board meeting. The board voted to keep trying.
I’m hearing about multiple incidents of violence at the school…
This is definitely true. The Wilmington police were called to the school numerous times.
…a student brought a gun to the school on the very first day…
We learned at their formal review meeting yesterday a student brought a “weapon” to the school. It was not named as a gun, but it was not named as anything more than a “weapon”.
…students leaving the school in mass quantities…
Their opening enrollment on August 24th was 260, and by September 30th they were down to 215, and more have left.
I’m hearing their relationship with Innovative Schools has soured to the point of breaking…
This has not happened, although many are questioning their role in all of this. Their board president talked yesterday about the great partnership Delaware Met has with Innovative Schools but not all board members are on the same page…
I’m hearing many of the students were at-risk students who were facing issues at other schools including potential expulsion and suspension issues.
This is definitely the case. Many of the students came from Moyer. As indicated by Innovative Schools CSO Teresa Gerchman yesterday, many of the students are “comfortable” with the chaotic environment at the school.
I have no idea how many students at this school are students with disabilities.
We know there are 62 “official” counts of IEPs for students with disabilities at the school.
…how prepared was the school to handle these issues? If the allegations are true, not prepared at all.
This school did not prepare for this at all. According to their board president Nash Childs, they were more concerned about the facility and their enrollment and they did not dig in to the school curriculum and the school climate. Innovative Schools missed the boat on fulfilling the promises made in their application and didn’t do anything about potential issues with culture and discipline.
The Delaware Met’s code of conduct is very confusing. While it states they are using restorative justice, I am not hearing about it actually being used. Restorative justice is defined as examining the harm done to an individual or a group and using that in lieu of punishment. This sounds good in theory, but certain actions will still warrant suspension or other disciplinary measures.
Where it gets very tricky is if the student may not agree to the harm done to others. If a student believes someone else started something, and they reacted (even if the reaction was stronger than the previous action), they may not see it as completely being their fault. Where Delaware Met is most likely having issues (if they are even following this philosophy) would be what happens after the student disagrees with the restorative justice discussion. The student may be suspended for additional days. Where this becomes a bigger mess is if the student has an IEP. Federal IDEA law states that if a student is suspended for ten days (whether from one punishment or cumulative punishments), a manifestation determination hearing must occur. The purpose of this is to determine whether the behavior or actions are a manifestation of the student’s disability.
A parent commented on an article from yesterday about her daughter being out of school for a month. The shenanigans stemming from this are not surprising given everything I have heard about this school. Even the Delaware DOE is not seeing restorative justice happening at Delaware Met. Even more concerning are allegations of “confinement”. Whether that is an in-school suspension or some other type of disciplinary measure is yet to be determined, but those in authority in the state are looking into this.
To read Delaware Met’s code of conduct, please read the below document:
It appears public schools aren’t the only ones in Delaware with unruly students. Campus Community School, a charter school in Dover, has expelled students very fast this school year in what appears to be a renewed zero tolerance for bad behavior. Actions range from fighting down to shooting a piece of paper from a rubber band. This new get tough program comes at a very interesting time.
As a former parent who had a child attend this school, I find this very puzzling. They do have a new head of school as of last January as well as a new student handbook that was approved by their Board of Directors in August. Their board minutes from the same month do speak of a new tiered behavior policy. But charter schools are supposed to save society from all of this, aren’t they?
I have to wonder why this is happening now. My questions are threefold. How many expelled students were or should have been special education and were there any manifestation determination hearings that are legally entitled by law? What were the students DCAS scores last year? How many of these expulsions occurred after the September 30th count and what happens to the funding in these situations?
This is a school that lives by something called Choice Theory. This means every student has the capability of making choices. Under this theory, every single adult also has that ability as well. So I would have to ask what kind of environment fosters a situation where there are so many “disruptive students”? From their website, this is their basic belief:
“We believe that all children can learn, but all learners have different needs, experiences, and ways of learning. We believe that children will rise to expectations if effectively engaged in learning tasks that are meaningful to them. We believe excellent teaching is reflected in high levels of student achievement and positive attitudes.”
For the estimated 12 students who have been expelled, what choices were they given in this process? I first heard this news from a student, which I didn’t see as fact until another independent parent verified this information. I was wondering why they hadn’t posted their board meeting minutes from September even though their websites states they will be available on October 24th. Their new student handbook which would show what their new behavior policies are isn’t even up on their website either. If any parent of these expelled students wants to reach out to me, feel free. I am very curious about what infractions these students committed and if they had previous offenses.
For any school, getting rid of students with low performing expectations could certainly help to close any proficiency gaps. I would hope no school would ever result to mass expulsions to reach these levels.
Is the Delaware Department of Education aware of these expulsions? Is this isolated to just Campus Community or are other charters in Delaware doing this? If that’s the case, John Sadowski down at the DOE must be clocking in a lot of extra hours lately!