Delaware DOE Releases Detailed School Assault Report

Last year, the Delaware 148th  General Assembly passed Senate Bill 207 with House Amendment #1.  The amendment required the Delaware Department of Education to compile a more detailed report on student on student assaults that resulted in a misdemeanor charge.  The DOE finished that report yesterday for the 2016-2017 school year.  Some of these are very vicious fights.

SECRETARY OF EDUCATION DR. SUSAN BUNTING COVER LETTER

SENATE BILL 207 w/HOUSE AMENDMENT #1 FINAL REPORT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dramatic Rise in Expulsions, Weapons, Fighting, Pornography, and Drug Use At Delaware Schools

The Delaware Dept. of Education released figures on School Conduct for the 2015-2016 school year.  In nearly every category there was an increase over the 2014-2015 school year.  One notable exception is a decrease in bullying reporting.  I contribute that not to a real decrease in bullying but schools not reporting incidents as bullying.  That has been an ongoing trend in Delaware.  Offensive touching and fighting/disorderly conduct went up dramatically over the year before.  Pornography and Production more than doubled.  These are very disturbing trends.  What is going on in our schools and districts?  What is happening to students that these numbers keep going up and up?  It will be interesting to see these numbers in a year now that legislation passed where schools don’t have to call the police for many incidents such as fighting/disorderly conduct.

I will attempt to break this down by district and charter schools, and then each school.  That is a lot of hours to do, so please be patient.  None of these reports break down sub-groups or demographics in these offenses and incidents.  So we are unable to see the race or ethnic breakdowns for these or if the students were special education or English Language learners.  The first numbers are for the 2015-2016 year followed by numbers from the 2014-2015 year.

SCHOOL CRIMES

Violent Felonies: 137 (138)

Gun-Free School Offenses- Handgun, Rifle, Shotgun, Starter Gun, Explosives/Incendiary Device: 16 (8)

Weapons Offense: Destructive Weapon, Dangerous Weapon, Dangerous Instrument, Pellet Gun, BB Gun, Knife, Razor Blade/Box Cutter, Brass Knuckles, Bat, Club, Martial Arts Throwing Star: 238 (196)

Drug Offenses: 582 (556)

Assault III: 373 (264)

Unlawful Sexual Contact: 56 (26)

Terroristic Threatening Employee Victim: 0 (0)

School Offenses: 0 (0)

 

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OFFENSES

Pornography- Possession and Production: 50 (22)

Criminal Mischief (Vandalism): 434 (316)

Alcohol, Possession and Use: 88 (80)

Drug Use/Influence: 320 (294)

Felony Theft ($1,500 or more): 2 (4)

Bullying: 1,260 (1,320)

Offensive Touching of a Student: 8,156 (6,134)

Terroristic Threatening of a Student: 752 (560)

Sexual Harassment: 272 (246)

Fighting/Disorderly Conduct: 10,450 (8,680)

Inhalants: 10 (2)

Drug Paraphernalia: 176 (148)

Tobacco Possession and/or use: 686 (782)

Medications- Inappropriate Possession and/or use: 58 (56)

Under 12- Assault III Student Victim: 66 (22)

Under 12- Assault III Employee Victim: 22 (22)

Under 12- Unlawful Sexual Contact III Student Victim: 18 (6)

Under 12- Unlawful Sexual Contact III Employee Victim: 2 (0)

Offensive Touching Employee Victim: 1,217 (808)

Terroristic Threatening Employee Victim: 324 (188)

Teen Dating Violence: 6 (8)

Tampering With Public Records: 0 (0)

 

SUSPENSIONS/EXPULSIONS:

Suspensions (Out of School and In School): 49,629 (47,473)

Expulsions: 123 (95)

Days Suspended/Expelled: 114,666 (98,020)

Unduplicated Students Suspended/Expelled: 17,258 (16,852)

Student Enrollment (9/30/15): 136,027 (134,932)

Percent of Students Suspended/Expelled (Out of School and In School): 13% (12%)

Suspensions (Out of School): 27,372 (25,151)

Days Out of School for Suspension and Expulsion (one day or more): 89,983 (72,848)

Unduplicated Students Suspended (one day or more) or Expelled: 12,063 (11,557)

Percent of Students Suspended (out of school) or Expelled: 9% (9%)

 

SUSPENSIONS/EXPULSIONS BY CATEGORY:

Department of Education Offenses: 10,359 (8,623)

School Violations: 38,651 (38,292)

School Crimes: 739 (653)

 

EXPULSIONS BY SERVICES PROVIDED:

Expulsion with CDAP placement: 54 (44)

Expulsion with services: 45 (31)

Expulsion without services: 24 (20)

 

Gang Issues At Dover High School Leads To Capital Board Approving Use Of Armed Constables

Last night, with a vote of 5-0, the Capital School Board voted to hire three armed constables at Dover High School.  Using a model currently in use by Indian River School District, the board discussed the issue with members of the community as well  as high school and district staff.  All supported the measure with one exception: the Senior Class President.  The pool of applicants would come from the Delaware State Police.  Because of insurance and pension issues, the pool was limited.  All were in agreement that hiring out-of-state would not be a wise decision.

One of the staff from the high school gave public comment indicating the current non-armed security guard company they utilize is highly ineffective and said it is like “throwing $40.000 off the roof”.  He cited the bomb threat incident a few months ago that led to a student’s arrest.  But he also indicated there was a huge fight on the football field as students were already trying to deal with the bomb threat.  He indicated there are gangs at Dover High School.  He said they are a small group of students who cause a lot of the problems.

The Senior Class President said many students were concerned with going from unarmed to armed persons in the school.  He felt like it was a drastic leap to go from one situation to what he felt was extreme.  He urged the board to find some middle ground.  Many students, he stated, felt it wasn’t fair to have this in their school when they weren’t the ones causing the problems.

In an attempt to allay the class president’s fears concerning the presence of armed constables at the high school, board member Ralph Taylor, also a retired Dover Police Officer of 20 years, said a gun is a very last resort.  He said the last thing an officer wants to do is use a gun, but it could mean a matter of many lives in a bad situation.  Board member Sean Christiansen said he reached out to different stakeholders in the Indian River School District including their own constables, parents, teachers, and students to get their thoughts on the matter.  All felt it improved school climate and led students to a feeling of safety within the district.  Dover High School Principal Courtney Voshell had a survey where parents could rate how safe they felt their children were at Dover H.S. and over 93% felt the school was not safe the way the current safety program was set up.

The school will also retain their School Resource Officer from the Dover Police and the constables will not have arrest authority.  They will be used to diffuse situations, but as it was explained, they will not punish students if they don’t have a bathroom pass.  The contract will cost the district an additional $75,000 out of their budget which will be used from carryover funds from fiscal year 2016.  Going forward, this would be a permanent part of the district budget.  The constables will be employees of the district.  They will receive professional development on all areas of school safety.  The details are not flush yet, but there was discussion if the training would come from the current Indian River Constables or the Dover Police Department.

I asked the board how the recently passed Senate Bill 207, which would not mandate schools to call the police every time a physical assault occurs unless it is considered to be a crime, could affect this decision from a financial perspective.  The bill, not yet signed by Delaware Governor Jack Markell, would give schools and parents discretion to contact law enforcement in those events.  Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton said the current school resource officer currently deals with crimes in the school so it would not change things.  Certain school crimes such as drugs or weapons, would still result in an arrest of a student.  Shelton said another bill (the restorative justice bill) didn’t pass but if it does in the future it would give the district additional funding to deal with school climate issues.   I also asked if the constables would receive special education training for students with disabilities.  Shelton said they would, but not on an individual basis.

The board was so impressed with the Senior Class President, board member John Martin invited him back up to the podium to discuss student concerns in greater detail.  Board member Christiansen invited him to come to every single board meeting.  It was also conveyed they wanted him to be a part of the hiring committee for the constables and Christiansen told Voshell he expected him to be excused from class those days.  Voshell jokingly answered that would be a summer school excuse which drew laughter from the audience.

The special board meeting, held just for the purpose of this decision, also had another activity.  Elected board member Dr. Chanda Jackson was sworn in by board President Matthew Lindell.

While I wrote some very negative things about the district almost half an hour prior to this board meeting yesterday, most of which concerned their Strategic Plan and joining the BRINC Consortium, I felt this board meeting was a very honest and open discussion about a very serious issue.  The district was honest about the issues happening at Dover High and didn’t try to whitewash the gang activity.  After the meeting, I happened to be speaking to a board member from another district that deals with similar issues as Dover H.S. but they said their district would never openly talk about these kinds of issues in their schools.  We both agreed that issues can’t be dealt with until they are acknowledged.  So I salute the Capital School District and Board for tackling this decision.

 

Howard High School of Technology Protecting Group of Students Who Jumped A Student At Freire Charter School

A few weeks before the violent assault at Howard High School of Technology, a group of Howard students jumped and beat up a student at Freire Charter School, in the mid-town Brandywine section of Wilmington.  How come we haven’t heard about this?  Because even though the Wilmington Police Department wants to act, they can’t.  Apparently there is a memorandum of understanding between Howard High School of Technology and the Wilmington Police Department.  There is a video of the incident but Howard refuses to name the students from their school.  And they don’t have to because of the agreement with Wilmington P.D.

I searched high and low for this agreement, and the only reference to it came from the New Castle County Vo-Tech District’s Student Handbook:

NCCVTMOUWWPD1

NCCVTMOUWWPD2

While I doubt this is the real Memorandum of Agreement with Wilmington Police Department, I am hard pressed to find any justification for Howard’s administration to withhold the names of their students that assaulted another school’s student off their premises.

So what exactly is going on with this school and why is the district downplaying everything?  They say their school is safe, but the things coming out indicate otherwise.  As well, Howard’s school psychologist resigned February 5th of this year according to their February board minutes:

NCCVTMinutesFeb2016

While it is not known if Howard hired a new psychologist since they haven’t updated their board minutes since, Randolph is still listed on the Staff Directory of Howard’s website.  The school has a Principal, three Assistant Principals, and three Guidance Counselors.

I have to know: What kind of world are we living in when the police can’t act because a school is protecting students?  Something is seriously wrong with this school and I am afraid more students are going to get hurt.  What happened to Amy Francis-Joyner was an unspeakable tragedy, but no one else is tackling the problems with the administration at this school.  How many more students will be hurt or even die before this district wakes the hell up?

You would think their Board of Education would say something, but they have not issued any press releases or talked to anyone publicly about what happened and continues to happen at Howard.  Like the Delaware State Board of Education, vocational district boards in Delaware are appointed by the Governor of Delaware.  That’s right.  They were appointed by Governor Markell.  And our Delaware Secretary of Education… where does he come from?  New Castle County Vo-Tech.

I saw a segment on Channel 6 ABC News from Wednesday about the charges filed against the three students involved in Amy’s murder.  They interviewed a student who said he is not allowed to talk about it.  Excuse me?  I knew the district put a gag order on the teachers but now they are doing it with students.  So the next time I see Superintendent Dr. Vicki Gehrt at Legislative Hall or some education meeting and she wants to give me one of her indignant looks, know that she is withholding vital information about the safety of one of her schools.  You can look like the wounded party, but your school is out of control and you damn well know it.  You can choose to ignore the situation and risk the safety of more students or you can actually do something about it.  Or the board can replace her.  Either way, students’ lives are far more important than the illusion this district is casting.

Just this past Monday, Howard Principal Stanley Spoor rather arrogantly told students and the press to not believe everything you hear and say on social media.  Well Mr. Spoor, maybe when the school and the district starts owning up to what is REALLY going on there, then you can start preaching from your pedestal.  Until then, please keep your students safe and make sure there is adequate coverage in your school to watch students.

My Thoughts On The Charges Against Amy’s Murderer And The Accomplices

As I’m sure most of America has heard, the Delaware Department of Justice filed charges against three teenagers involved in Amy Joyner-Francis’ murder two and a half weeks ago at Howard High School of Technology.  There is absolutely no mention of Amy’s head being slammed into the bathroom sink even though some reports stated that at the onset.  Only one girl, Trinity Carr, actually hit Amy.  She has been charged with criminally-negligent homicide.  The other two helped plan the assault up to twenty hours earlier.  But the true shocker was that Amy had a pre-existing heart condition.

According to the News Journal article linked above:

Investigators determined that the fight was a planned confrontation in the girl’s bathroom, but only one girl – 16-year-old Trinity Carr – actually hit Amy that day, according to a statement by the DOJ. The fight was filmed, according to court documents, and shows Carr hitting Amy repeatedly in the head and torso area with “what what appears to be a closed fist.”

The video then shows Carr leave and Amy attempt to stand up from the floor, according to court documents. Amy then appears disoriented, court papers say, and collapses back to the floor. When paramedics found her, she was unresponsive and went into cardiac arrest shortly after.

Knowing what really happened won’t take away the pain and sadness surrounding all this.  It won’t bring back Amy who apparently didn’t know this was coming.  Just a sweet, innocent teenage girl going to school one day.  The question is how many others knew about it.  I am still upset no one else in that bathroom intervened.  I’m assuming her heart condition was private as that has never been mentioned before.  If the intent was there to do bodily harm to Amy, what did Carr think would happen?  While they may not have planned actual murder, how is this “criminally negligent”?  Our justice systems works in funny ways.  Why did it take two and a half weeks when the police had the video the entire time to arrest Carr?  At the very least, the evidence clearly shows an assault.

Trinity Carr, Zion Snow, and Chakeira Wright will have to live with what they did every single day for the rest of their life.  Carr will most likely spend what should be some of the best years of her life in prison.  Snow and Wright will probably be in juvenile detention while their classmates are going to the prom and graduating.  But no amount of justice will ever make any of this alright.  Amy will never have the opportunity for any of those things.  I really hope this is a wake-up call for all of us in Delaware.  We need to make sure this never happens again, and that includes the adults.

Tim Furlong with NBC Philadelphia gave a bit more detail about what happened after the fight:

After the fight, Joyner-Francis complained about head and chest pain. A school resource officer called 911 and Joyner-Francis lost consciousness before medics arrived. CPR was performed as she was flown to a nearby children’s hospital. She later died at the hospital.

Where was this school resource officer during the fight?  I understand fights can happen fast, but where were any adults during this assault?  That is the question no one is asking.  I challenged the district about this a couple of weeks ago.  It was important to clarify their board meeting change, but in regards to my other concerns, they completely ignored them.  Last week I saw the Superintendent of the district for Howard High School, Dr. Gehrt.  She knows who I am cause I’ve seen her at many meetings where I gave public comment.  I saw her at the assessment inventory meeting at the Delaware DOE.  Usually she gives me a smile.  At this meeting, she could only scowl at me.  I’ll take my lumps where I get them.  But at least own up to… something.

Amy’s death affected me immensely, and I didn’t even know the poor girl.  She is a memorial to what we need to fix in our schools.  We can’t stop what happens outside of school, but we can make sure Amy’s death is a living testament to change.  I haven’t heard one word about school climate from those in power.  We have seen plenty in social media comments, but once again it is an empty echo chamber from the decision-makers in our state.  Our legislators have been strangely quiet on the issue.  The Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Governor Markell have been eerily quiet about the situation.  Perhaps things will start to happen now that the investigation is over and charges have been filed.  All I know is something has to happen.  We can’t have another Amy, or all the many living victims of bullying and assault in our schools.  It has to stop.

Amy, Skyline, Bomb Threats, Bus Issues, Fighting, Bullying, Inclusion, Zero Tolerance: How Do We Fix The Mess?

In the wake of what happened at Howard High School of Technology a week ago, many are questioning how to fix what is happening in our schools.  There are no easy answers.  I have not heard anyone defending the perpetrators of Amy’s murder.  But I have seen people describe students who exhibit behavior issues referred to as “animals” and “they should be sent to labor camps”.  While this is an extreme, I’ve heard these types of comments more than once, and I hear it more and more.  Once we go down that path we are essentially labeling these students as helpless and stating there is nothing we can do to help them.  And let’s face facts: when people say this there is a very racist undertone and they are referring to African-Americans.  I don’t agree with it on any level and every time I see it I want to ship the people who would say things like that out of our state.

Just this school year we have seen the following: a charter school that closed mid-year due to an uncontrollable environment, a change in feeder patterns resulting in many instances of bullying at a Red Clay middle school, a bizarre number of bomb threats resulting in many schools closing for the day, a child intimidated by a bus driver in Appoquinimink, a father suing Brandywine over what he alleges are due process violations and unsubstantiated searches, students sent to hospitals as a result of fighting that are never publicly acknowledged but whispered about on social media, inclusion practices that are not working, and a student who died from a brutal assault last week at Howard.

As our state grapples with these issues, we have not seen solutions put forth that look at the big picture.  Why are our students acting out?  Why are many of our schools attempting to hide many of these issues?  I have attended many State Board of Education meetings this year and I listen to their audio recordings.  We don’t hear them discussing these kinds of issues too much, if at all.  They seem to be more concerned with student outcomes based on standardized tests, Pathways programs, charter schools, accountability for schools, and celebrating the good things in our schools while giving short shrift to the issues that truly impact school climate.

It starts there.  To get to the heart of issues like this, you have to start at the top and have it trickle down to the Superintendents or Heads of School, to the building administrators, to the teachers, to the students and to the community.  If we have that massive disconnect at the top, the issues can never truly be addressed.  If our State Board and legislators can’t get these matters fixed, how can we expect our schools to do so?

To adequately blame one thing that started a lot of this, we can blame zero tolerance.  After the Columbine shootings in 1999, a massive wave of zero tolerance spread throughout America.  No school wanted to have a situation like that on their hands.  Students would be suspended for frivolous things.  It got to a point in Delaware where an African-American first grader was expelled in the Christina School District for having a cake knife.  As a result of that one bad judgment call, a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) resulted in the district entering an agreement with the OCR.  Because the OCR ruled too many minority student suspensions were happening, the district had to be very careful about how they were meting punishment to students.  Other districts saw what happened to Christina and didn’t want to suffer the same fate.

As a result, there was no consistency throughout the state on best practices.  For all the accountability and “standardization” of students based on very flawed state assessments, there has never been any definitive set of standards for school discipline and school climate.  There is no consistency with how schools report instances of bullying, offensive touching, and fighting.  Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn pointed this out many times but there has been no direct accountability to schools over these issues.  Part of the problem with discipline issues is the unique nature of them.  Because of student privacy and FERPA regulations, many situations can’t be discussed publicly.  There is no accurate tracking method to make sure our schools are recording these instances on the state reporting system, E-school, as required by state law within a set time period.  The result is very bad data in the one area we actually need it the most.  Add in special education issues and behaviors exhibited by students with disabilities.  Is it a result of their disability or is it everyday behavior?  Sometimes we just don’t know.

Some schools are very faithful with recording issues, but far too many aren’t.  How do we know which schools need help with issues if they aren’t being 100% honest about what is going on in their halls?  What shape would that help even be?  If it is a punitive measure from the state, is that going to solve the problem or persuade schools to hide things better?  Non-profits and corporations are lining up to get into our schools to offer what amounts to for-profit assistance.  Under the guise of the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a call for companies to come into our schools like never before to offer after-school programs and to turn our schools into all-day community centers.  As well, we are seeing some states allowing companies to essentially bet on student outcomes in return for financial profit through social impact bonds.  Many of these ideas are concerning to parents.  Should schools be a place where medical and therapeutic treatment for students occur?  For neglected and abused children, this could be a life-saving measure for those children.  But it also opens up more of our public education system to less control at the local level.  Many feel government should not even be allowed to write something like this into any law.  The Elementary/Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was designed to make sure minority students were given equal footing in schools and were not disadvantaged.  Written in 1965, its goal was actually simple: equal rights for all.  Fifty years later, we are still tackling many of the original issues.  But now we want to turn our schools into more than what they should be.

As far as this insane filming of fights in our schools, it is a new environment with no oversight.  Students want to become social media famous because people come to their profile to look at it.  Something needs to happen immediately.  It is fostering an environment that is not healthy and desensitizes kids to violence.  Even community Facebook pages that have nothing but street fights on them exist unchecked and unmonitored.  In some of these videos, you actually see people telling others how to evade the police and they give warnings when the police are in the area.  For some reason, students are fascinated by this.  But the effect is chilling.  As well, the role of technology in our schools and homes is greater than ever.  But why are we allowing students to carry iPhones around school?  How much of the violence from gaming is warping young minds?  For that matter, what is all this screen time doing to all our brains?

If Amy’s tragic death has shown us anything it is that something is very broken.  We have to fix it, no matter what.  Amy’s situation is by far the worst thing that could happen to a student in school.  But many students bare physical and emotional scars from this broken system.  They are the survivors of fights and bullying that cause trauma to the soul, if not the physical.  On the flip side, we have students like Patrick Wahl’s son Joseph who many view as a victim of very bizarre due process circumstances for a district that still follows zero tolerance tendencies.  There are good things happening in our schools.  Don’t get me wrong on that.  We see students participating in charity events and giving back to their community on many levels.  But that can’t be all the public sees.  We have to look at the bad too.  We can’t put a blanket over the violence in our schools and pretend it isn’t there.  Amy’s death shattered that illusion in our state.

In the shadow of all this is the other illusion the state has cast on parents.  Many parents judge schools based on their performance without realizing the measurement of that performance is fundamentally flawed.  To get a basic breakdown of how this works, many years ago corporations decided they could make money off education.  They tailored reports to give the illusion that “the sky is falling” and all students were in danger of falling behind other countries.  Politicians jumped on the bandwagon through concerted lobbying efforts on the part of these companies, and soon enough new laws came down from a federal level based on student outcomes from standardized tests.  No Child Left Behind opened the door but Race To The Top opened the floodgates for this corporate invasion.  As schools were labeled and shamed under “school turnaround” laws, the US DOE started their ESEA flexibility waiver scheme.  They bribed schools with money to further these agendas.  Our schools and districts took the money with immense pressure from state governments during a recession.  A dramatic shift in school climate happened.  As more and more teachers took part in professional development to train them on the Common Core and other company initiatives, something happened to students.  They were not supervised the way they were prior to all of this and they found new ways to usurp authority, especially in schools with large populations of high-needs students.  Add in the situation with the OCR in Christina, and it was a recipe for disaster.  Diane Ravitch wrote today about the fifteen years of “fake” reform and how the impetus behind it all, NAEP scores, show students who are now seniors more behind than they were compared to their counterparts in 1992.  Common Core doesn’t work.

What if what we are seeing with student behavior and the reasons behind it are all wrong?  What if those who come from poverty, special needs, and low-income minority populations isn’t just misbehavior but something else altogether?  What if it is a direct result of a system designed for conformity?  The supposed goal of the Common Core was to make all students get the same set of standards across the country.  I hear many consistent things from parents in Delaware.  For smarter kids, Common Core isn’t so tough once they get it.  But for struggling students, basically the ones from sub-groups that perform poorly on state assessments, it is much more difficult.  Perhaps what we are seeing with this absolute disregard of authority in schools is a natural defense mechanism kicking in.  A fight or flight mechanism when their way of living, of being, is attacked.  The natural instinct for teenagers is to rebel.  Compound that with an entire education system designed to make students question authority less and use “critical thinking” based on standards that actually give children less choices, and something will give.  We are seeing this now.  And if we continue on the same track, it will get far worse.  If a “smart” student gets it faster, it would naturally put other students behind.  This is the impossible bar the Common Core puts on students.  For the intelligent who come from wealthier and more cohesive home environments, this isn’t a problem.  But for students with disabilities who cannot always control their actions and minority students who do not have the environmental stability their more advantaged peers have, it will take a great deal of effort to catch up with their peers.  Add in the stress and anxiety they have from their environment outside of school to the pressure to perform in school, and the pressure gage gets higher.  Then add the explosive need every teenager has, to belong and have friends, and the gage gets closer to the point of no return.  Throw in a fixation on violence mixed with wanting to be accepted and the Pompeii of public education is set.  Last week we saw the volcanic eruption of rage unchecked and bystanders filming it and doing nothing.

The biggest victims of the education reform movement are inner-city African-American students.  While civil rights groups demanded more equity for these students they fell into the trap the corporate education reformers methodically laid out for them with financial enticements.  The reformers echoed their complaints and pitted parents against teachers.  The reformers used standardized test scores to give a false impression of schools and invented a whole new language based on the word “gap”: the equity gap, the proficiency gap, the honesty gap, and on and on and on.  Add in school choice, a growing charter school movement, forced busing based on a horrible Neighborhood Schools Act in Delaware, and the rise of Jack Markell as Governor wrapped in a corporate bow and the perfect storm began in our schools.

To ignore the plight of African-Americans in Delaware would be a gross injustice.  It goes way beyond apologizing for slavery.  A friend of mine sent me an article about the 1968 Occupation of Wilmington.  The article written by Will Bunch with philly.com talked about the nine-month Occupation of Wilmington by the National Guard following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  For the African-American community in Wilmington at the time, this was a grave injustice:

On the other hand, in a sign of some of the deep divide and mistrust in Delaware that lingers to this day, the white Democratic governor down in Dover decided to send in the National Guard – and then kept troops on the streets of Wilmington for nine long months, the longest military occupation of a U.S. city since the Civil War.

And this quote from former Wilmington Mayor James Baker:

But the memory still burns for those who lived through the occupation. “It sent a shock wave through the social-service agencies . . . and the city as a whole,” Baker recalled. “People said, ‘What are we doing?’ “

Many African-American communities in Wilmington are very distrustful of the government, and for very good reasons.  This belief gets handed down from generation to generation.  But when drugs enter a city like Wilmington, followed by violence and murders, that distrust can get out of control.  How do we tackle this?  How do we lift a whole city out of a problem of this magnitude?  When my friend sent me this article, it was a response to my question about why we don’t just send in tons of cops and clean it all up, all the drugs and gangs.  She informed me the last time this happened it didn’t work out too well.  It astonishes me that we are still dealing with issues of race in the 21st Century, but we are and we need to face it and deal with it, all of us.  But at the same time, we cannot ignore what individuals are doing in individual circumstances.

We need to be very careful on how we plan to deal with the situations in far too many of our schools.  Far too much is tied into the very bad education reforms that show, time and time again, how it just doesn’t work.  But our current system has been infiltrated with far too many people tied to these efforts.  I expected to see a late rush of legislation coming forth at Legislative Hall in the final days of June.  With very little community input and transparency, we need to watch our legislators like a hawk and make sure what they put forth is best for students and not the broken system some of them are trying desperately to make permanent.  The funding mechanisms for our schools are under the microscope, but if we squeeze the property assessment orange too fast, it could cause many to leave the state they moved to because of low taxes.  As well, we need to be mindful of laws Delaware could pass in anticipation of the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The law is still being flushed out in a lot of areas and the DOE and Governor Markell WILL take full advantage of that to please the hedge funders and corporations.

If businesses want to come into our schools and turn them into community schools, they should pay rent to our schools.  If they want to turn education into a marketplace, like any other store they need to pay their rent.  Why are we giving them a free ride while they make millions and millions and our districts get less?  It makes no sense when you look at it like a business model.  But no, our state wants to give them tax discounts for doing business in our state.  We are giving them free reign to pump out the same products over and over again with no actual results.

While these aren’t the solutions we need to make our schools safer, it is a big start.  Our district administrators are far too distracted with all of the nonsense around Common Core, state assessments, personalized learning, and career pathways when they should be focused on the more important things.  The first steps to ending violence in our schools are actually quite simple.  A rebellion like none seen before in public education.  A collective and concerted effort to rid ourselves of the catalysts that are stroking the flames in our children’s lives.  End Common Core.  End state assessments.  End the testing accountability machine that destroys morale in students, teachers, and schools.  End the corporate interference in education that perpetuates the false ideals that if students have more “rigor” and “grit” they can become college and career ready.  We are indoctrinating children at a very young age to be something they are not meant to be.  The human mind won’t allow it.  Some will conform.  But for the growing poor and disabled in our country, they will not be what the reformers want them to be.  You can’t guide a four-year old towards a certain career path based on data and scores.  You can’t say they don’t qualify for special education if a disability has not manifested itself yet.  End the abhorrent amount of data collection on our students for “educational research”.

This is the start.  Let’s get back to more human education.  Why are we doing this to our future?  No child should be a victim of a padded resume or a fattened wallet.  The majority of teachers will tell you privately what we are doing is not working.  Administrators will as well if you catch them on a good day.  But they feel threatened that if they don’t comply their profession will disappear.  They will fight for certain things but when they need to openly rebel against the system, it doesn’t happen.  It is their self-defense mechanism.  The closest we have come to ending this era of education reform is opt out.  But even that is in danger of disappearing if the education tech invaders get their way and have the state assessment embedded in small chunks instead of a once a year test.  The personalized learning and competency-based education models are already calling for this.

When I hear people say “all you do is complain, what are your solutions?”, I cringe.  The problem is so epic in scope, so large in diameter, that it will take a great deal of effort by many well-meaning people to find all the answers.  And when I say well-meaning, I don’t mean the Rodel Foundation or the Governor.  I mean the people who are not affected by corporate greed and a lust for power.  I’m talking about the people who truly want to save our children.

UPDATED WITH VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION!!! Parents Concerned About Murder At Howard High School Should Go To District Board Meeting Monday Night

Updated, 8:32am: I have just heard from a few sources that the district has changed their meeting to their district office at 4pm.  And the meeting will be held in a conference room that holds a maximum of 15 people.  Apparently there is a Town Hall at Stubbs Elementary School tomorrow night which is being led by Wilmington Councilman Darius Brown, which precipitated the time change for the board meeting.  The district did reach out to advise me this is the reason for the board meeting change.  Several folks were upset about this, and I did suggest to the district they might want to change the board meeting to another night when parents and members of the community are more easily able to attend.  There is another Town Hall this week for parents to talk about the situation.  I will update that information when I know when and where.  One thing I would remind everyone to do is think of Amy and her family and friends.  And please continue praying for all of them.

Howard High School of Technology belongs to the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District.  The district has a board meeting Monday night, 4/25, at St. George’s Technical High School in their Media Center at 7pm.  Howard was the high school where Amy died last Thursday.  I believe the district has a lot to answer for.  While I don’t believe the district is directly responsible for what happened to Amy, there were circumstances that allowed the situation to happen in the first place.

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Why are students allowed to enter the school at 7:15am in the morning to gather and do what they please.  I’m hearing hall monitors are sparse, when they do come, and when they arrive on time.  I’ve heard many who want to blame the teachers for what happened.  Nope.  They are in district mandated professional development during some of these mornings.  To accommodate this, the district changed the start time for the first classes a couple days a week.  Let’s make one thing clear right off the get-go: teachers hate professional development.  I don’t care how many surveys the Delaware Dept. of Education dredges out.  The abuse of Delaware teachers doesn’t begin and end with their evaluations.

Our school districts have become so enamored with the Delaware Way, that horrible situation where all tables must come to the table and compromise while the more powerful of the parties ends up getting their way (in most cases the state DOE/Rodel Foundation for education).

Could Amy’s death have been prevented?  I would like to think it could have.  One thing is crystal clear.  The discipline and fighting figures we see are not honest.  There may be a few out there, but I think a lot is going unreported.  There are things our schools are trying to hide which is making problems worse, not better.  In many of our schools, students hit teachers all the time.  They curse and roam the halls in some schools.  Some students are expelled or sent to alternative schools in the hopes they will become better students.  But the class sizes in these schools now make it impossible for a teacher there to get anything done.  There is also this absurd culture where students have no authoritative role models anymore.  Some of them don’t get it at home or school.  A school should not be the Band-Aid to cure what ails so many of our students.  But this seems to be what our state and the corporate education reform companies want.

Don’t get me wrong: students should not encourage fighting, nor should they build a blockade so teachers or other adults can’t stop what is going on.  The students involved should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  In my opinion, those who stood and watched while filming the tragedy should be held accountable as well.  They are just as guilty.  But the schools, districts and administrators who stand back and let these things happen time and time again need to realize how serious these things can get.  A student died in one of our schools in Delaware.  She was murdered.  We can’t forget that and it would dishonor Amy’s life to think otherwise.

The parents of students at Howard High School of Technology have every right to voice their concerns.  I strongly encourage all of them to attend the board meeting Monday night in Middletown.  If they are unable to get there, other parents should offer a ride or perhaps the district should arrange busing for them so they can make their voices heard.  This meeting could get very real and the district may be forced to hear things they would rather not hear.  But I’m sure Amy’s parents heard something they never wanted to hear the day she died.

Restorative Justice Legislation In Delaware Would Decrease Suspension Rates & School To Prison Pipeline

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This legislation hasn’t even been filed.  It was sent to me anonymously.  I have very mixed feelings about this.  There are many things kids are suspended for and probably shouldn’t be.  But to limit suspension rates over bodily injury, threats of bodily injury or death but not in self-defense, or bringing weapons to school.

What about racial epithets?  Or swearing at a teacher?  Or throwing furniture but not causing bodily injury?  Or making sexually suggestive comments to a student?  Those are all things that would have given me a ticket home when I was in school.  Bullying isn’t addressed in this unless it is physical.  If we have zero tolerance for bullying under any circumstances why isn’t this included?

What if a student abuses the new system?  Continuously?  My fear with this type of bill is students trying to get out of class and knowing they won’t be suspended for it.  As well, if a student gets in-school suspension, the parents should be notified right away.

Perhaps the biggest part of this bill concerns students with disabilities.  Under the federal IDEA law, a manifestation determination hearing must be held if a student is suspended a certain amount of time.  If the student isn’t suspended but still showing the behavior that would have caused the suspension prior to the implementation of this law, how can an IEP team have the manifestation determination hearing?  The purpose of these is to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan after the school psychologist develops a functional behavioral analysis.  That is federal law.  State law does not trump federal law.  But if the state does away with the catalyst for the federal law, isn’t it essentially taking away rights for students with disabilities?  And does restorative justice replace what is in a developed IEP?

I’ll be honest, restorative justice wasn’t around when I was a kid.  Maybe it is great.  But is it known to work?  In my opinion, all the restorative justice in the world is not going to cure what comes in from a home environment.  If a student comes from a broken home or violence, it may temper the behavior but it doesn’t get rid of the outside of school problems that could be a very big reason for the behavior.  I would caution our legislators on passing this bill as written.  There are too many factors at play here that haven’t been looked at yet.  Which could be why it wasn’t filed yet.

Restorative Justice came about in prisons.  I have no problem with anyone making amends.  But it is for criminal behavior.  By using this in schools, are we making some issues bigger than they  are?

On the other hand, this law would reduce many suspensions that are completely unnecessary.  When I hear about the reasons some kids are suspended, I shake my head.  But then again, sometimes suspensions dealing with weapons brought to school could be seen as overreaching depending on the circumstances.  We need consistency but we also need common sense.  There are never easy answers.  But I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Keep in mind, this bill hasn’t even been filed yet.

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn Talks About School Fights, Bullying, and Senate Bill 207

It must be Matt Denn day here at Exceptional Delaware!  In any event, Delaware Attorney General appeared on Comcast Newsmakers with Jill Horner on March 21st to talk about Senate Bill 207.  This legislation would make it so schools do not have to call the police every time there is a fight in a Delaware public school.  The schools still could, but they would have discretion based on the circumstances and the potential of serious injury.  As well, SB207 would mandate schools disclose the contact information for the Ombudsman at the DOJ who deals with school bullying issues to parents.

Chaos Unleashed At Delaware Met Yesterday

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Instead of students being somber about their charter revocation January 22nd, they decided to do something else yesterday.  This week, the Delaware Met received a new leader in the form of Denise Barnes, a former middle school assistant principal from Appoquinimink.  Yesterday, the students took full advantage of the recent decision by the State Board of Education to shut down the school by misbehaving and “jumping”, a slang term for causing fights.  The school had no clue how to handle the unruly students, so they shut down at noon.  This was not a planned and scheduled day.  They just said “School’s over, time to go home.”

Why would the charter, with a model that  focuses on personal relationships called “Big Picture Learning”, allow this behavior to continue.  And with all the problems, why would they hire a person from Appo to lead the school?  Appo and Delaware Met are two completely different worlds.  I’ve heard that even though the students had issues with former school Leader Tricia Hunter Crafton, she at least had their respect.  She knew how to connect with the students.  But as the school has gone through a few “leaders”, the students are running the school.

Delaware Met closes for Christmas break on December 22nd.  When they come back in January, they will have a few weeks before they close for good.  Who is monitoring what goes on there between now and then?  Is anyone?  It is painfully obvious that whoever the authority figures are now do not know what they are doing.  Are these students even learning anything these days?  And what about all their internships?  Is that even happening (which was the whole purpose of the school)?  The school bragged about their hiring of A.J. English and his mentoring team with English Mentoring.  What is going on with that?  What is their much vaunted “school climate team” even doing there?  The school has bragged about how things have turned around, but just this week alone there was an emergency room visit for a student who got stitches after a chair was thrown at his head, and then the mini-riot yesterday that forced the school to send everyone home without parental notification.  Apparently, the DOE was unaware of the stitches incident until well into the State Board of Education meeting the next day.  As if not telling the DOE about the stitches thing would have stopped the State Board from shutting them down!

As the Delaware Auditor of Account’s office investigates the school’s finances, many are wondering about what they will find.  I would assume they are looking at how funds were allocated, especially special education dollars.  Their budget submissions to the DOE during their formal review showed a lot of funds moving around.  And if there was any misappropriation of federal dollars, that’s big time!  I would also guess they are looking at Innovative Schools role in this unprecedented disaster.  How was money spent during the two-year planning period?  Did Innovative take advantage of the apparent inexperience of their board of directors?  And will we ever find out the mystery of the bleeding meat served at lunch to students?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the State Board of Education made the right decision in shutting them down.  But with that decision also comes the responsibility of making sure things run right until that closure.  By shutting them down, the State Board is saying they don’t trust the school to make the right decisions for their students.  So if they didn’t trust them before their decision, why would they trust them now to do the right thing?  With everything going on there, someone needs to look out for these kids.

 

Wilmington Police Department List Of Delaware Met Calls And Arrests

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When things went south at Delaware Met, it kept going and going and going.  Like the Energizer Bunny, the Wilmington Police Department kept going and going and going, right to the Delaware Met.  To make arrests, stop fights, collect loaded BB guns, and so forth.  Here is a list of all the times the police came to the school, the nature of the complaint, and the result:

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Wow.  That is all I can really say about this.  Wow.  And yet all these parents are begging to keep the school open…

Tomorrow is the last day to give public comment which you can do here: https://form.jotform.com/52888685884178?

Delaware Met Moms, Dads, Students, & Teachers: Make Your Voice Heard!

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!

Glitch In DOE Reporting Fails To Show School Offenses & Crimes Data For Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware College Prep, & Delaware Military Academy

How about those apples? I actually found a huge technicality in the DOE reporting system for bullying and the DOE fixed it in record time.  Contrary to popular belief, things at the Red Clay charter schools are NOT as rosy as the past couple years of bullying and discipline reports provided by the Delaware Department of Education would have you believe.  I was very puzzled when I saw, for two years in a row, none of these three charters had their individual reports come up on the DOE School profiles website.  I emailed John Sadowski, the Program Manager for Climate and Discipline at the DOE this morning and advised him of this.  As of 12 noon, the reports are now available.

I’m not sure what happened, and it didn’t change the Annual bullying report I posted this morning, but it does show some things parents would not have seen before this fix.  I would like to believe this happened because of the odd nature of Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware College Prep and Delaware Military Academy being the only charters in the state authorized by a school district.  In this case, the Red Clay Consolidated School District.

Using Delaware College Prep as an example, this is the only information parents could see for them on the School Profiles page of the DOE website:

Number of Reported Offenses (2014-15)
School District State
School Crimes (Title 14, Delaware Code, §4112) 1 74 678
Department of Education (DOE) Offenses 23 1,239 10,432
All School Safety Policy in Place N/A
Suspensions and Expulsions
2014-15
Number of Suspensions 44
Number of Expulsions 0
Count of Students Suspended/Expelled 23
September 30 Enrollment 569
Percent of Students Suspended/Expelled 4%
District Percentage 11%
State Percentage 12%

When you hit the tab for details in both these sections you get to see a breakdown for this data as you can see in the below reports. But before 12 noon today, it didn’t come up for the three Red Clay charters while it did for every other public school in the state.  I put up both the reports for Red Clay, before and after so you can see the difference.

Red Clay Consolidated Combined Report 2014-2015, 6:59am, 10/7/15.
Red Clay Consolidated Combined Report 2014-2015, 12:25pm, 10/7/15
Charter School of Wilmington Combined Report 2014-2015
Delaware College Prep Combined Report 2014-2015
Delaware Military Academy Combined Report 2014-2015

So what got me all interested in Red Clay charters and these reports?  It had a lot to do with this article.  I knew the student was suspended for many days over suspected drug activity. I wanted to be sure Charter School of Wilmington reported it right to the state since that was part of the issues at the time. I believe they did, because it shows 20 students were suspended from the school for a total of 118 days.

I don’t believe this was an intentional mistake on the DOE’s part, but oversight and making sure all the reports came up would have been prudent. I’m glad they fixed it though and parents can see what actually happens in terms of reportable offenses at these three schools.

With the current issues Delaware College Prep is going through, knowing they have had 18 fights and a violent felony might be something the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education may want to know about. Although I am curious what the two Delaware DOE offenses are for Delaware Military Academy with nothing checked off in the sections for that category.  Maybe they aren’t done fixing it…

Happy Birthday To The Inspiration Behind Exceptional Delaware

Before Markell and Herdman started plotting together, before Common Core was a gleam in Arne Duncan’s eye, before the words Race To The Top meant gouging schools in America with corporate education reform, a baby was born.  Eleven years ago today to be precise.  Out in Southern California, he entered this crazy world.  It was a beautiful day, very warm and in the 80s, not a cloud in the sky.

After some complications, my son was born.  My wife had some complications as well, so I went with the nurse to the incubator.  Before my son was placed in there, I reached out my hand to his and he squeezed my finger.  Not even 10 minutes old, and I bonded with him forever at that moment.  It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Here we are, eleven years later.  He came into this world on a warm and sunny day, and he turned eleven waking up to snow.  There have been many challenges along the way, and there will be more.  But there are also those moments of joy that you can never put into words.  Things only a parent can truly know.

His journey through life is his own, I’m just a guide for a certain amount of time.  He has other guides, like his mom, and others.  His story has become my story, and everything I do on here, every word I write, it is to help him, and others like him.  The battles I fight, the secrets uncovered, it is all to expose and to change.  If I, along with others, ever do win these battles, the biggest challenge will be what comes next.  Nature abhors a vacuum, so something must take it’s place.  I pray that worthy voices will very carefully replace the abomination education has become.  For my son, and the students in all of our schools.

I have to believe something better is on the way.  I have hope.  It can’t be this bleak all the time.  In the meantime, I will continue to write, for my inspiration and my moments of joy, happiness, sadness, anger, confusion, curiosity and insight.  Happy Birthday bud!  I love you!

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