The Discussion About Racism Is Important But So Is The Tone. Tales From A Red Clay Board Meeting.

Last week, at the Red Clay Board of Education meeting, a huge and heated conversation took place about the lack of diversity at Cab Calloway School of the Arts.  It turned into something ugly and what I would not expect from a sitting board member. Continue reading

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The Alex Eldreth Autism Education Law Would Bring Big Changes To Delaware Autism Program

It must be education legislation pre-file day today!  State Representative Earl Jaques with a Senate sponsorship by Senator Margaret Rose Henry pre-filed House Bill #292.  This legislation is very similar to the 148th General Assembly’s Senate Bill #92 which failed to get out of the Appropriations Committee due to state budget constraints.  The key difference between HB #292 and SB #92 is the fiscal note was lowered for the new bill.  I love that Alex Eldreth, a longtime advocate for students with Autism in Delaware, is honored with this bill.  Eldreth, from Autism Delaware, passed away in November of 2017.

This Act implements the recommendations of the March 2015 Autism Educational Task Force report regarding § 1332 of Title 14, the Program for Children with Autism and its Special Staff. Enacted nearly three decades ago, this law established a network of educational programs initially within a separate school structure known as The Delaware Autism Program (DAP). Today, this network continues as a combination of both separate school programs and within local school district support services. However, the current model does not reflect current practices in special education, especially regarding inclusive education, and parents’ desire to have their children educated in their local communities. In addition, the increase in students with an educational classification of autism spectrum disorder (“ASD”) has made it difficult for the Statewide Director to provide the level of services and support that once was offered. This Act establishes the qualifications and duties of the Statewide Director and enhances the current mandatory committee structure to include a Parent Advisory Committee, in addition to the Peer Review Committee and Statewide Monitoring Review Board, to increase family input, monitoring, and protections. This Act creates a 3 year pilot program that revises the concept of DAP toward a system in which the statewide Director will work in collaboration with a team of experts to provide technical assistance and training to districts and educational entities. It allows for and provides adequate resources for all students with ASD in Delaware by eliminating the distinction between DAP-approved programs and other in-district options and by providing in-state experts at a lower cost than out-of-state residential treatment and consultants. The pilot program created under this Act makes changes that recognize and support the need for specialized technical assistance and training staff to be available to build capacity for teachers in all districts and other programs educating students with ASD. These changes expand available supports so that excellent, evidence-based training and technical assistance can be made available to all Delaware schools and the students who attend them. The pilot program created under this Act establishes a technical assistance team of educational autism specialists numbering a ratio of 1 for every 100 students (currently estimated at 15 positions). The fiscal mechanism to support the pilot program will be accomplished through mandated district participation that is consistent with the current needs-based funding system in Delaware and by redirecting state spending towards lower cost, community-based supports from out-of-state residential placements. The number of training specialists will be phased in over several years or until the pilot program ends. Finally, this Act is known as “The Alex Eldreth Autism Education Law” in memory Alex Eldreth, who passed away unexpectedly on November 24, 2017, and his dedication to this work.
To read the full legislation, please go here.

State Rep. Kim Williams Informed Closure Of Day Treatment Centers Will Happen

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams let me know she was informed the closure of out-patient intensive servicees, otherwise known as day treatment centers, will occur in the next sixty days.  This decision was made through the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health which is part of the Department of Services for Youth, Children and Their Families (DSCYF).  One parent found out that local school districts or charter schools will be expected to pick up the tab for these types of services in private settings.  Which is in sharp contrast to existing Delaware state code which indicates the state picks up 70% of these bills and the local districts pay 30%.  These placements are deciding by a group called the Interagency-Collaborative Team.

The ICT and what they do is this, from Title 14 of Delaware code:

(b) Before the Department of Education can authorize expenditures for new placements according to this section, the case must be reviewed by the Interagency Collaborative Team (ICT).

(1) The ICT shall consist of:

a. Division Director, Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families (DSCYF);

b. Division Director, Family Services of DSCYF;

c. Division Director, Division of Youth Rehabilitation Services of DSCYF;

d. Division Director, Division of Developmental Disabilities Services of the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS);

e. Division Director, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health of DHSS;

f. Director of the Office of Management and Budget or designee;

g. The Controller General or designee;

h. Director, Exceptional Children’s Group, Department of Education (DOE), who will serve as Chair; and

i. Associate Secretary, Curriculum and Instructional Improvement, DOE.

(2) A director assigned to the ICT may designate staff to represent the director on the ICT only if these designated representatives are empowered to act on behalf of the division director, including commitment of division resources for a full fiscal year.

The Delaware Department of Education needs to share the blame for this.  They have set up a pressure cooker for students with disabilities.  While Autism rates have soared in the past decade, so has the test, label, shame, and punish atmosphere set up by the DOE.  While much of this was set up through federal mandate, Delaware has consistently failed in being able to “get” special education.  Inclusion does not work in the modern era of Common Core standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  When the DOE started setting up “standards-based IEPs” they missed the whole point of special education.  Is it any wonder students can’t function in these types of environments?  It is toxic to them. It is toxic to all students, but more for the most challenged.

Special education in Delaware is horrible.  I am not disparaging the teachers in the classroom who attempt to deal with these issues, but the psychological toll on these students is more clear than ever.  What we are doing now isn’t working.  What they are planning won’t work.  It is past time for parents to begin rising in protest like they never have before and demand change.

 

A Back To School Note Regarding Acceptance

This has been floating around Facebook.  I don’t know who wrote it originally, but it brought a tear to my eye.  Many parents of special needs children see this going on with their kids.  It is heartbreaking when it happens.  Please, please, please, let your children know we all have differences and those differences are what makes each of us special in our own way!

I would just like to put this out there! If your kids are not around special needs kids at school and have never been taught that not everyone is the same then maybe you could take 10 minutes tonight to explain this to them because even though they may not be around these kids at school, they may see them at church, at the mall, at the grocery store or even at the park. In light of recent events on the exclusion of a child who has autism from participating in a school trip and a Down Syndrome child being kicked out of dance class because she couldn’t keep up, I felt the need to share this. There are boys and girls that nobody invites to birthday parties, for example. There are special kids who want to belong to a team but don’t get selected because it is more important to win than include these children. Children with special needs are not rare or strange, they only want what everyone else wants: to be accepted!!

Red Clay Parent Ashley Sabo Speaks Out In Support Of Inclusion

Red Clay parent Ashley Sabo, who I’ve written about a few times on here, just gave a stirring public comment at the Red Clay board meeting.  While I wasn’t there, Ashley was kind enough to share it with me.

As an involved parent and inclusion advocate, the magnitude of inclusion did not become real until my daughter started kindergarten last year.  It was with great trepidation, major anxiety and a lot of prayer that we put her in full inclusion at Forest Oak.  We met with her teacher soon into the school year and we continued the constant communication throughout the year.  It did not take long at all to know that not only did we make the right decision putting her in full inclusion, but when it came to Kindergarten teachers we hit the jackpot.

Jackie Gallagher worked with our daughter, Anna, to meet her where she was then pushed her forward to develop new skills and abilities and onward to success. When one method or plan didn’t work for Anna, she would alter things. If equipment or modifications were needed she worked tirelessly to get them.  She reached out to other staff who had different knowledge and experience to create new ways for Anna to learn.  She approached each day with understanding and patience and behind her was an administration who listened not only to the teacher but to us as parents – fully respecting our expertise when it comes to our daughter and was committed to the mindset that Anna was just as much a Forest Oak student as any other student without special needs.

We often hear about needing to close the achievement gap and more rigor, rigor, rigor.  I can assure you it was not the rigorous worksheets and overwhelming curriculum thrown at kindergarteners these days which made Anna’s year successful.  It was the open communication between parent, teacher and administration. It was the willingness to be flexible and make adjustments. It was the collaboration between colleagues to develop plans and find the right resources which made Anna’s kindergarten year so successful.

Growth and success will never be from a standardized test or learning at a computer. Closing the achievement gap is not something that can be done through legislation.

Successful inclusion happens when the line of communication between parent, teacher and administrator is always open. When requests for resources and equipment are met in a timely manner.  When teachers are flexible and willing to make changes to meet the needs of their students.

Seeing the joy as my daughter received a birthday invitation to her classmate’s party is the outcome of inclusion and is proof inclusion can be a wonderfully, beautiful thing.

If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And Inclusion is worth doing so we need to make sure it stays as a top priority and that changes take place so that we can look back and say Red Clay has done well.

Red Clay: Your Inclusion Plan Is NOT Working. This Needs To Stop…NOW!!!!!

Last year, the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education approved an inclusion plan for students with disabilities.  Instead of paying for students with severe and intense difficulties in their own educational setting, as required by federal law under IDEA, they decided to stick them with all the regular students.  The results have not been kind to these students.  I’ve been following this story for a while now, but with everything else going on I haven’t been able to give it the attention it deserves.  This changes now.  If I have to fight multiple fronts, I will.  This post put up by a sister of a Red Clay student with Autism was put on Facebook.  This should not be happening at all.  I am begging the Red Clay board to put a stop to this now.  If it means you don’t have funding for WEIC, so be it.  If you can’t handle your own, than you definitely shouldn’t be taking more.  I like some of you as people, but if you can’t get your act together as a whole for students with disabilities, all bets are off.

Today, my mom got a call from one of my sister Juliana’s teachers at Conrad. Her teacher told my mom that Jule was being horribly mocked and teased because of a pair of boots she liked and decided to wear to school today. Juliana is bullied and tormented every single day that she goes to school because she is autistic and she functions differently than other 7th graders. However, today was especially hard to hear about because she came home saying it was “one of the best days of her whole life.” When we asked her why, she said it was because her boots caught everyone’s attention, they were “complimenting” her, and even taking pictures. This honestly broke my heart because anyone would know that those kids weren’t really trying to make her feel good about herself in any way, and those pictures most likely ended up on Instagram or snapchat for everyone to mock. I just don’t understand how kids can be so cruel, especially to someone with a learning disability that doesn’t recognize sarcasm and thought all of their comments were serious. It breaks my heart to see her go through this every day of her life but today really struck something. If you have kids, please teach them kindness. It can be all someone like Juliana needs to know they’re not alone. My sister is a 12 year old girl living with autism, and she’s fucking amazing. Any kid that wants to at come for her, has to come through me first.

Is this really the environment Red Clay wants in their schools?

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Mike Matthews, Jackie Kook, and Mike Kempski

trio

In March, the Red Clay and Christina Education Associations passed a resolution announcing a vote of no confidence in Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, the Delaware Department of Education and the Delaware State Board of Education.  The resolution, announced at a press conference on March 12th, 2015, was widely cheered as a strong statement against the education policies and agendas of both the DOE and Governor Markell.

Their resolution was the first of a series of blows against the Department and Murphy in response to the DOE’s atrocious handling of the six priority schools in Wilmington.  Teachers in the two districts had enough with the standardized testing parts of their teacher evaluations.  RCEA and CEA, led by the Mikes, Matthews and Kempski, with support from CEA Vice-President Jackie Kook, brought the resolution up for a vote to their union members.  In addition, both educator associations supported the opt-out legislation, House Bill 50.  Over the coming months after their announcement, both the Delaware State Education Association and the Delaware Association of School Administrators echoed their calls of no confidence in Mark Murphy.

As 2015 draws to a close, we can’t forget the impact these three had on education this year.  House Bill 50 passed the House and Senate.  Mark Murphy is gone.  The new Every Student Succeeds Act calls for an elimination of standardized test scores as part of teacher evaluations.  In a very big way, the two largest districts in our state received the most press this year, in large part due to the Wilmington redistricting plan.

Christina had a very rough year.  It started off with the priority schools debacle which led to a memorandum of understanding with the DOE to grant the district a second planning year in response to the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee’s recommendations.  After that, they lost two referendums which caused a reduction in work force of 99 educators.  Dr. Freeman Williams, the Superintendent for the district, went on leave in August.  Their board narrowly passed a vote to bring in Bob Andrzejewski as the Acting Superintendent a few months ago.  Budget forecasts for the district look ominous as the district faces a third referendum attempt this year.  The redistricting effort in Wilmington, now awaiting a vote by the State Board of Education in January, will certainly change the makeup of the district if passed.

Meanwhile, Red Clay passed their referendum, but not without consequences.  A lawsuit filed by a family in the district in regards to operating procedures for the referendum could change the entire referendum landscape in Delaware.  While Christina received an extra year of planning for priority schools, Red Clay moved forward but not without severe issues with promised funding from the DOE.  New feeder patters led to a series of issues at Skyline Middle School as new students coming to the school literally changed the school culture of the building, resulting in a huge rise in bullying incidents.  The district’s inclusion initiative is now the hotbed issue in the district due to a severe lack of resources and staff to handle the complex and intensive needs of many of the students with disabilities.

Matthews, Kempski, and Kook will certainly have their hands full in 2016.  But as three of the strongest leaders not only in their district, but in the entire state, all three will be front and center in the debates and conversations surrounding education in Delaware.

Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Passes Their Plan, 20-2-1

At tonight’s Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, the committee passed their final draft which will be presented to the Delaware State Board of Education at their meeting on Thursday.  The State Board is expected to vote on the plan at their January meeting.  The no votes belong to State Rep. Charles Potter and Wilmington City Council member Nnamdi Chukwuocha.  One of the students representatives was absent from the meeting.

The sole public comment belonged to yours truly.  To summarize, I told WEIC “I hope you guys know what the hell you are doing!”  I advised them if this winds up making students with disabilities lives harder, they will all hear from me.  I let them know Red Clay is already having issues with their inclusion program, and putting more students into the mix could make it tougher.  I advised them I am resigned to this going to a higher power at this point and I hope the best decision is made for the students.

As the only legislator present at the meeting (Senator David Sokola had a proxy vote of yes in his absence), State Rep. Potter’s vote surprised me.  I’ve heard from many that the true battle for the future of the redistricting effort and the WEIC plan will be in the General Assembly.  The wild card is not that we will have a budget deficit in Fiscal Year 2017, but how much it will be.

WEIC will continue after this into the new year.  It is a five year plan and the redistricting is just the first step.  Chair of WEIC Tony Allen wished everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanza!

Inclusion or Restricted Environment for Special Education: Which States Favor Certain Settings #netde #eduDE

In an article yesterday on Disability Scoop, results were announced from research done by Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. They surveyed states to find out where special education students were generally placed, in a restricted environment or inclusion, placed in a regular classroom setting.

Overall, the analysis found that Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin most consistently favored inclusion.

In contrast, Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. generally leaned toward restrictive settings.

When funding formulas for each state were examined, Kurth found that a handful of states appeared to incentivize placing students in more restrictive environments, but said that these monetary policies did not appear to have a “clear impact” on educational placement decisions.

The last sentence definitely jumped out at me.  Especially for good old Delaware!  More information can be found here: http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2014/09/08/inclusion-rates-sped-state/19652/

Back To School: A Great Transition Meeting #netde #eduDE

Yesterday, we had a sort of unofficial IEP meeting with my son’s new school.  Transitioning from elementary school to middle school, my wife and I thought it would be a good idea to meet the IEP team in an unofficial capacity.  My son attended as well, and it was an excellent way of not only introducing him to his primary teachers, but to also let the team know what to expect with his Tourette’s Syndrome and other diagnoses. 

Everyone was very willing to listen to our understanding of TS and suggestions.  Many questions were asked in regards to certain scenarios that may come up.  It was a great way to clear the air and start the school year off on a good note.  I highly recommend doing this for any special needs child who may be transitioning from one school to another within the same district.  I have to give high props to Capital School District in Dover, Delaware for their excellent special education team!