A month ago, I posted some articles about a far right-wing group called Project Veritas. I didn’t know much about them but their videos intrigued me. I gave the Delaware State Education Association a hard time and that may not have been very fair on my part. Today, when I read an article by Cris Barrish with WHYY, DSEA President Mike Matthews impressed me a lot! The article was about Senate Bill 234, which passed the Senate yesterday and will be heard in the House Education Committee in the next few weeks, if not sooner.
Mike Matthews, president of the Delaware State Education Association that represents teachers and other school employees, said crimes and violations like those cited in this article spurred his union’s lawyer to work with state education officials, attorneys and others to craft the legislation.
I remember talking to Mike about some of these horrific crimes that were making the media such as Karen Brooks in Smyrna. He was as disgusted as I was. A few years ago, Delaware Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf came out with a similar bill but this one was much better. I firmly believe DSEA’s role in the writing of Senate Bill #234 made it a much stronger bill.
Matthews said the DSEA “strongly supports” the bill because it could prevent the ability of child abusers to “bounce around’’ to different school districts with their teaching license intact while a serious allegation goes through a copious investigative process at the district level. The bill would also provide extensive due process to protect teachers who are unfairly accused by students, parents or other faculty, he said.
Amen Mike! We don’t want ANY teacher or educator milking the system when they are abusing kids. My take on teachers like this? They shouldn’t be anywhere near children or teenagers. But at the same time, we don’t want to necessarily punish the innocent. Unfortunately, there have been situations where teachers have been victim to false claims.
“It clarifies the process that I think maybe has been muddied for some time,” Matthews said. “It kind of separates this idea that the employer, the district and board, has to take action before [the state can take action] to revoke or suspend an educator’s license when there are allegations of a serious crime.”
My take on this? Most districts or charters don’t necessarily want the publicity when things go down. If there is an arrest, they can’t help it. What happens when an investigation is a stall tactic? Forcing the state to take action tells the district or charter- “we know this is going on and we will take action when you won’t!”
“The bill takes necessary steps to remove those educators if there is clear fear of harm coming or having come to a child. I like to believe that like any other profession we are always going to have those who do not represent our profession well and need to be exited when it comes to these allegations and potential crimes.”
A fast exit!
What I didn’t foresee with this bill was how it could affect special education. Barrish wrote about this aspect of the legislation when discussing the “letters of concern” portion of it.
The bill also has a provision that could apply when the state determines that no violation has occurred which warrants disciplinary action, but that “an act or omission” by the teacher is a “matter of concern.” Such a concern could be that the teacher creates inadequate Individualized Education Programs for students who are identified as in need of special education services.
I have very mixed thoughts on this. A teacher could write a draft IEP before the IEP team convenes to discuss it. Putting the onus on a teacher for what could be team decisions is very dangerous. Yes, the teacher is the one that writes the draft, but the team decides what is final. Any IEP team should include an administrator (usually the Principal or an Associate Principal), the school psychologist, the school special education coordinator (also called an Educational Diagnostician), the school nurse (unless the parent says it is okay for them not to attend), a special education teacher, and a primary teacher. And of course the parent or parents. When students reach 8th grade, they typically attend the IEP meetings as well. Is one teacher out of a whole IEP team the only one that should get a “letter of concern” if the school winds up getting sued for not following an IEP? Or writing a bad one? This could open a huge can of worms. I have always told parents, do not sign an IEP unless you are satisfied with it. There is nothing preventing you from doing so. And if you find the IEP isn’t working, you can always request another IEP meeting to revise it.
Now when it comes to teachers not following very specific parts of an IEP, such as not having the student do every other math problem as an example, that is a different matter. If a teacher willfully doesn’t follow what is written in an IEP, I can’t defend that. I may need to see more on this part. The big question would be what happens if a parent sues a charter or district over special education matters. Would those “letters of concern” become discoverable evidence? Would the district or charter put themselves in a position of legal vulnerability? Or would the special education law firm have to subpoena the Delaware DOE to get those letters?
I’m going to take this time and publicly apologize to Mike Matthews for my Project Veritas articles. A DSEA email was provided to me the same day I saw Veritas’ videos. I published it without reaching out to Mike for more information. I regret that. While the email didn’t condone the actions of the subject of a Veritas video it didn’t defend it either. It was simply an internal email warning of potential Veritas spies hoping to entrap teacher union members. I was harsh on DSEA and I acknowledge that. Legislation doesn’t happen overnight and I will assume DSEA was working with the Delaware DOE on what became Senate Bill #234 long before the Veritas videos came out in May. I had no idea Veritas was going to jump on my article and put Mike in the spotlight the way they did. I remember seeing that video and gasping. Yes, I published it, but the more I found out about Veritas the more something didn’t seem quite right.
I look forward to Senate Bill #234 becoming the law of the land in Delaware! And I would hope James O’Keefe who seems to have made it a crusade to go after teacher unions can provide “fair and balanced” coverage to show the good things they are doing. But knowing O’Keefe, he would probably take the credit for it himself. That seems to be how he rolls! He can say what he will about some rogue union leaders out there, but here in Delaware, our union looks out for students as well as teachers!