17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: Kendall Massett

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Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, will soon be standing at a crossroads.  As someone who preaches district and charter collaboration on one hand, the other hand is busy trying to find ways to get more district money to follow students at Delaware charters.  This dichotomy is going to define the future of charter schools in Delaware.

As anyone breathing in Delaware is well aware, fifteen charter schools sued the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Christina School District over funds they felt should have been going to charter schools.  The defining moment in the lawsuit: when Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky reversed changes to the local funding formula for school choice payments after September 1st.  They could have been patient and allowed Godowsky or the next Delaware Secretary of Education and the General Assembly the opportunity to figure it out.  But instead, they took the legal route which was championed by Kendall Massett.  As a result, the law firm of Saul Ewing will get $300,000.  How many teachers could be hired with that kind of money?  How many students could have received a paraprofessional in a school room bursting with over 25 kids?

If the collaboration Massett truly desires took place, this lawsuit wouldn’t have happened in the first place.  If there is blame to be thrown around regarding who was at fault with the local funding formula, that blame lands solely at the feet of the Delaware Dept. of Education.  They should have been the ones answering the questions for the charters.  Christina performed their due diligence and submitted their exclusions to the Delaware DOE.  This originated last Winter, with Newark Charter School calling in the DOE who apparently “confessed” to the powers that be about the exclusions submitted by Christina.  The DOE had an opportunity right then and there to make good on this.  The charter schools could have gone public with this information and forced the DOE to do something about it.  And if that didn’t work, they could have brought in the General Assembly.  But instead, they kept this a secret for many months.  They had to know when the public found out about this they would be understandably upset.  These were huge funding changes with charter payments.  This was not a wise move for the charters involved.  By alleging that Christina was purposely withholding funds from these charters when the district did the same thing they had been doing for 12-13 years, which I might add was completely legal since the DOE approved them, the charters started a war.  It is not that difficult to see this was the original intent.  It boils down to Greg Meece having a hissy fit because his school wanted more money and if Christina wouldn’t willfully give it up, he was going to punish them and cast blame.

In an article on Delaware First Media, written by Meg Pauly on December 1st, Massett weighed in on the Christina Board of Education signing the settlement with the fifteen charters.  Massett, as the go-to spokeswoman for Delaware charter schools, seemed to have some very big misunderstandings about what this settlement really is.

She said the decision most likely won’t require a vote from each schools’ entire board of directors, which could make it easier to approve.

“Because there would not be any money going out – they’re not paying out a settlement, it would be money coming in – there’s not really a fiduciary responsibility that the board would have to approve,” Massett said.

There is certainly a fiduciary responsibility stemming from this settlement.  The charters, according to the settlement, would have to make sure the funds were allocated to certain functions similar to what those funds were used for in the Christina School District.  As well, the Pandora’s box called tuition tax funds were brought up in the settlement.  It states:

In the CSD settlement agreement, CSD has agreed to catalogue and describe, for DOE and CSD Charter Schools, those services provided by CSD to children with special needs (“Special Needs Services”) that are funded in whole, in whole or in part, with revenues generated by the levy of the so-called Tuition Tax by CSD.  The objective of this undertaking is to determine whether CSD shall be financially responsible under Section 509(f) for funding the same or similar Special Needs Services provided by CSD Charter Schools to their CSD resident students.  If requested, DOE will participate in the discussions and inquiry described in this subsection, and, where necessary, shall enforce this provision.

So what does Section 509(f) of Delaware State Code say?

For any student, who because of educational need requires services that are appropriately financed pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title, either at the outset or subsequent to a decision to enroll in a charter school, the student’s district of residence shall remain financially responsible for such student and the charter school shall receive from such district a payment determined in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title.

Which brings us back to Chapter 6 of Title 14:

(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.

(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.

(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.

The charter schools get IDEA Part B funding from the federal government.  They receive special education funding from the state for Basic Special Education for students in pre-school (if they have those programs) and students in 4th-12th grade.  They get intensive and complex funding for students in all grades.  Where the tuition tax gets very complex is how it is determined.  The local school board votes to set the current year’s tuition tax rate for taxpayers.  It is not something the district can change on a whim.  And state code is very specific about what those funds can be used for.  What makes Christina very unique is that they are the management district for several special needs programs.  Those are not funds the charter schools could touch based on this settlement unless they are providing comparable services.  Then we get into the definition of a comparable service.  Would Gateway Lab School be considered the same school as the special schools within Christina?

Where Kendall, as well as the entire settlement, performs a massive overreach is in this particular section.  It is tampering with state code in unbelievable ways.  State code does not legally have to honor a settlement stemming from a lawsuit between a school district and a group of charters.  As well, it can not, and should not, dictate what a state agency has to do.  That is what we have our General Assembly for, to create and amend laws.  We can certainly discuss the merit of some of those laws, but that is the very essence of the Constitution of Delaware.  A settlement should not create new contradictions that try to negate existing law.  Which is why Secretary Godowsky wanted the General Assembly to intervene in this entire funding process.  I am assuming the Delaware DOE signed their settlement agreement with the fifteen charters.  Which is even more concerning in my eyes.  The fact they would allow changes in Delaware law without approval of the legislative body charged with performing that task.  A settlement cannot create laws or regulations.

What this section does is change the duty of charter schools in regards to their adherence of special education law which they should already be doing to the best of their ability.  This settlement is much more than a “fiduciary responsibility” in nature, as Massett put it.  Something that magnanimous in scope should be approved by a charter school board, not a Head of School or even an interim principal in one case.  It is fiduciary in a sense that the charters would receive more money from a tuition tax, but it would require an oversight of the special education services within each of those charter schools to make sure they are performing at a comparable level to Christina.  That could involve extra resources and staff those charters may not have.  Could a charter hire that staff and pay for those resources and then submit for those tuition tax funds?  Or would those services and staff have to already be in place to be eligible for those funds?  The settlement does not define that.

If, for some odd reason, legislation is created out of this part of the settlement, it would require districts to collect even more tuition tax from taxpaying citizens within their district.  They would have to because more would be required to go out to charter schools for those students.  They should not be tasked with divvying up the existing tuition tax they receive for the students within their own district with those needs or funds they are already sending to special education schools outside of their district.  That would take away from those students.  But here is the major problem with this: the local boards have to determine the tuition tax rate in the summer before the school year starts.  They base this on projections within their own district.  How can they determine the needs of special education students who reside in their district but attend charter schools before the school year even starts?  For some they can, but special education can be very fluid, evolving from year to year.  It is hard enough for the districts to do this for their own students.

If Kendall Massett wants more collaboration between districts and charters going forward, she needs to stop drawing this line in the sand when it comes to money.  She is going to continue to piss off the districts and they will not want to collaborate with the charters who keep demanding more and more from them.  Districts can’t always get performance funds or donations from foundations.  They can’t always have silent auctions like many charter schools do.  All Delaware public schools have the capability of applying for grants from the state or the federal government, including charters.  Districts don’t get to keep their excess transportation spending if they set their budget higher than what they actually spend.  And charters are free to use this money as they please.  So please, tell me Kendall, if the charters are getting what you view as their “fair share“, will you promote removing those extra perks for the charters that districts don’t get?  When it comes to education funding, there is a crystal-clear difference between what a charter school needs and what an entire district needs.  In some ways, it is like comparing apples to oranges.  You can’t complain about charters not receiving capital funding.  That was the way the law for charters was set up.  It was the price of admission into Delaware public education.  So by default, on paper, it would appear charters get less than districts for that very reason.

Some could argue that this latest misstep by the charters is just more of an ongoing agenda to privatize public education.  Just one more chunk taken from school districts and flowing into the hands of charter schools which are actually non-profit corporations.  By state law, those corporations are required to file IRS tax returns.  But because of loopholes in IRS guidance, the one charter school who actually started this whole charter payment mess is the one school that does not file those tax returns.  The guiding force behind the lawsuit was Greg Meece and Newark Charter School.  They created the very conditions that led to the lawsuit.  The settlement promises severe disruption to all Delaware schools involving special education and funding.  But Newark Charter School is not transparent with their own finances the same way the rest of Delaware charters are.  I have grave issues with that.  And I have no doubt in my mind Kendall is aware of this.

In a News Journal article from December 5th discussing the settlement details, written by Adam Duvernay, Kendall states the following:

“I’m glad everyone will have a seat at the table, and that the process will be transparent, so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again where charter schools go for years without answers and feel like they need to resort to legal action to make their voices heard,” Massett said.

What about the questions many Delawareans have been asking the charter schools for years without any real answers?  Like how certain Delaware charter schools can cherry-pick students in defiance of state and federal law?  When does Newark Charter School, which created this whole mess, finally implement their plan to balance their demographics at their school?  When does Newark Charter School become fully transparent with their own money the way every other Delaware charter school is required by law to do?  Massett cherry-picks her statements.  She wants districts to answer any questions charters have, but when those answers are needed by others, she either deflects or states it just isn’t true.  And when people do take legal actions surrounding charter demographics?  Like when the Office of Civil Rights asked for all charter school applications a couple of years ago going back the two years before that request?  The Delaware Charter Schools Network became the organization tasked with collecting that information.  And what happened?  Massett informed the Office of Civil Rights the charters did not know they needed to keep that information.  And then there is the matter of the now two-year-old complaint from the Delaware ACLU against the State of Delaware and Red Clay regarding practices of segregation and discrimination from some Delaware charter schools.  Kendall called that “a myth.”  Two years later and that complaint has gone nowhere.  Forcing someone to sit at the table with a menu where there are two choices, our way or no way, is not collaboration.  It is not legal action.  It is manipulation that doesn’t belong in education.  With education, every decision eventually affects students in a good way or a bad way.  For far too long, those decisions have existed for the benefit of charter school students.

Getting real here, Kendall’s job is to promote charter schools and to serve as a buffer between them and the state in certain areas.  At heart, Kendall is a lobbyist, seeking to influence the General Assembly and the Delaware DOE in ways that will benefit charter schools in the state.  Charter schools pay dues to the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  In a sense, they are very similar to some of the roles the Delaware State Education Association plays in education politics.  But the difference is that DSEA represents the teachers in district schools.  They promote or oppose legislation that will benefit the teachers within their organization.  I have no doubt DSEA would love to have charter school teachers unionize.  But the Delaware Charter School Network exists for a niche within public education that almost serves as a parasite on the districts they feed from.  It takes from the host body and sucks the energy out of it.  That is the price of school choice that Kendall cannot seem to fathom.

In 2017, education will once again be front and center in Delaware.  The corporate education reform movement, led by the Rodel Foundation in Delaware, will become more pronounced with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  But in some ways, it almost seems like the charter movement in Delaware and those who advocate for them, seem to have become more emboldened with the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA.  He promised billions of dollars to charter schools.  To add salt to that wound, he appointed Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education.  A charter school lover if there ever was one.  I have no doubt charter advocates across the country are feeling almost empowered by these events.  Supporters of public education are very worried about what will happen to further erode an education system that has been in place long before the very idea of a charter school was introduced.

In Delaware, Kendall Massett will continue to have great relationships with the Dept. of Education and the State Board of Education.  She will exert her influence on the General Assembly.  If any bill is introduced that will negatively impact charter schools, she will wield her power and influence to put a stop to it.  She is backed by some very powerful forces in Delaware that will not be trifled with in any way.  But none of these forces see what their choices and decisions make to education as a whole.  If charters and districts were funded the same way as the vo-tech schools in Delaware, I don’t think the issues with charter schools in the state would be as big.  But this parasitic relationship between districts and charters is paralyzing to education in Delaware.  There are other things that perform the same damaging results,  but we can control how this particular relationship evolves.  Districts and charters aren’t going anywhere.  If charters want to co-exist with districts and have true and meaningful collaboration, they have to stop these games.  And Kendall Massett, as the spokeswoman for the charters, will have to take on a different mantra.  It isn’t a question of choice at this point, it is an answer that demands immediate implementation.  Fair goes both ways.

If I were Kendall Massett, I would actually recommend the Christina Board of Education rescinds their vote on the settlement.  Funding is important, but shaking down a district like this which will only tick off the other districts in the state, is not something to be proud of.  It is not a victory when students continue to pay the price.

Does The New Charter School Moratorium In Wilmington Still Exist?

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Last year, the Delaware General Assembly passed House Bill 56 which created a moratorium on new charter school applications in the City of Wilmington until June 30th, 2018 or until the State Board of Education came up with a strategic plan to deal with charter schools in the city.  This was signed by Governor Markell on May 5th, 2015.  As of today, no strategic plan has come forth.

This bill provides a moratorium on all new charter schools in Delaware until June 30, 2018 or until the State Board of Education develops a strategic plan for the number of charter, district, and vocational-technical schools in the State. Also, the bill requires review and comment from Wilmington’s Mayor and City Council before either a local school district or the Department of Education approves a charter in the City of Wilmington. Lastly, the bill requires the local school board’s approval for a charter school in the City of Wilmington before the Department of Education can approve the charter school.

An amendment was placed on the bill:

The amendment clarifies that the Mayor and the City Council of Wilmington may review and provide comment on applications by charter schools seeking to locate in the City of Wilmington before the school is authorized by the relevant approving authority. It also clarifies that no new charter schools will be authorized to open in the City of Wilmington prior to June 30, 2018 or the development of a statewide strategic plan for specialized public educational opportunities; those charter schools already authorized will be able to open as planned.

While this bill was desperately needed at the time, one of the major failings of the bill was not addressing enrollment issues at already existing Wilmington charter schools.  Several new charter schools opened in Wilmington over a two year time span in years 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.  Other charters closed down.  Meanwhile, other charters submitted modifications to increase or decrease their enrollment.  This causes havoc with education funding which is already a beast.

Yesterday, I broke the news that Prestige Academy is slated to become a part of the EastSide empire.  But given that the board of Prestige already wrote a letter indicating they would not seek charter renewal for next year and no part of the renewal process has gone forth since that letter, wouldn’t the school becoming a part of EastSide technically be a new charter school?  Whatever the intention with Prestige Academy might be, it needs to be publicly addressed now.  When Family Foundations Academy became a part of EastSide, it was done with no public ability to comment on the move and was announced at a State Board of Education meeting.  Negotiations took place behind the scenes with no transparency whatsoever.  By adding a sole-standing charter school into a conglomerate of other charter schools, it essentially changes the entire corporate make-up of a charter school.  And for those who aren’t aware, charter schools are considered to be corporations in Delaware.

Charter school modifications have a ripple effect not only on traditional school districts in the area, but also other charter schools.  We saw this play into the fates of the Delaware Met, Delaware STEM Academy, Prestige Academy, Delaware Design-Lab High School, and Freire Charter School of Wilmington.  All faced enrollment issues which resulted in either closure or a formal review for those enrollment issues with the exception of Delaware Met.  For Delaware Met, they were woefully unprepared to open the school and students suffered as a result.  There is certainly a correlation between the charters that received approval for larger enrollments and other charters who had less students this year.

I would like to see our 149th General Assembly continue this moratorium on new charter schools in Wilmington but add a few more items to it.  Any charter school modification needs to be given the same weight in terms of approval by Wilmington City Council and the local school district.  On November 1st, the Delaware Department of Education will begin accepting applications for new charter schools to open in the 2018-2019 school year.  These issues need to be addressed by our legislators before the State Board of Education may begin approving more charter schools next April, not only in Wilmington, but the entire state.

I also urge the 149th General Assembly to firmly address the issues of inequity at Newark Charter School, Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware Military Academy, Odyssey Charter School, and Sussex Academy.  As well as some of the magnet schools and vo-tech schools in the state.  We can no longer move forward in the 21st Century with the severe inequities across our schools that represent a face of discrimination and de-facto segregation.  Delaware needs to be better than that.  We are still waiting on the Office of Civil Rights to address these issues based on the complaint from the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union and Delaware Community Legal Aid.  The OCR has been sitting on this since it went to them in December of 2014, almost two years ago.  The reliance of standardized test scores on all Delaware schools has been extremely punitive to schools that have much larger populations of high-needs students, especially in the City of Wilmington and the greater Newark area.

The Sad Legacy Of Delaware Senator David Sokola

It’s hard to believe it has been almost 22 months since the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union and Delaware Community Legal Aid announced their complaint against the Delaware Department of Education and Red Clay Consolidated School District.  That complaint is sitting in the Philadelphia Office of Civil Rights collecting dust.  I read the complaint again this morning.  There is a legislator whose name is mentioned a few times in this complaint as the author of legislation that contributed to segregation in Delaware… Senator David Sokola.

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I’ve noticed in the past week that the upcoming General Election in Delaware has many wondering if Sokola’s accomplishments outside of education should give him a second chance.  I’ve argued that no matter what Meredith Chapman’s stances on education are, they pale in comparison to what Sokola has wrought.  To be honest, aside from a video interview with Delaware United and a citizen commenting on a Facebook thread that Chapman supports a parent’s right to opt out of the state assessment, I have not heard enough from her to get a good picture of her views on education.

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Knowing what occurred in Delaware because of certain charter schools and their enrollment practices, I thought this would be a slam-dunk in the Office of Civil Rights.  But that office, an offshoot of the U.S. Department of Education, has been strangely silent.  I am aware these complaints take years to reach a ruling.  But the complaint itself says enough about Senator Sokola that any citizen reading it should be able to have a clear picture in their mind.  The complaint also talks about the ignored warnings and omens from many that came with Sokola’s legislation which led to de facto segregation in parts of Delaware.  I have never heard Sokola apologize for this.  I’ve never seen any indication that he understands any of this.

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David Sokola is a very intelligent man.  He is someone who sees data and facts.   His favorite word is “heartburn” when talking about legislation he doesn’t like.  I’ve heard from many about his support for non-education bills that were very progressive in nature.  But as I’ve always said, if you support legislation that will ultimately harm children, that is not very progressive.  Like the citizens of Delaware who offered warnings before harmful Sokola legislation passed in the Delaware General Assembly, I offer a warning to Delaware.  If the citizens of the 8th Senate District vote Sokola back into another term, Delaware children will suffer.  Numbers don’t lie, and even if those charter schools changed their enrollment preferences to get rid of pre-enrollment assessments, 5 mile radius, sibling preferences, employee preferences, or the many other little things that contributed to the eventual outcomes we now see, it will be years before the situation balances between those three charter schools and the districts around them.

The complaint against the Delaware DOE and Red Clay is below.

Predicting The Future…Was I Right?

Back in March on 2015, I made several predictions for Delaware education.  I ran across this post yesterday while searching for another post.  As I looked back on these predictions, I wondered if I was right or wrong.  I would say I got about half right and half wrong.  Some were dead on the nose while others I wasn’t even close!

Top Ten Exceptional Delaware Predictions for 2015

1. Mark Murphy is either terminated or resigns

Yes, I was absolutely right about this!  By August 2015, Murphy did “resign”.

2. Mark Holodick takes his place

Nope, Dr. Steven Godowsky took his place.

3. Office of Civil Rights comes back with scathing report against Delaware

Nope, still working on it supposedly.

4. More charter schools get scrutiny over finances

Yes.  Academy of Dover, Providence Creek Academy, Kuumba Academy, Delaware College Prep, whatever is in the unreleased petty cash audit, and Delaware Met.

5. At least 3 districts won’t meet the 95% benchmark for standardized test participation rates

Nope, more than 3 districts didn’t hit the 95% benchmark for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

6. Delaware parents become a force to be reckoned with education conversation

Maybe.  We did get House Bill 50 passed in the House and Senate but Governor Markell vetoed the bill.  Parents of students with Autism did get Senate Bill 93 passed.  There were other bills that went through, but parent advocacy wasn’t as big in the General Assembly after the veto override of HB50 didn’t go through.

7. Bullying and discrimination will become BIG issues

To me, this is always a big issue.  I think more awareness of discrimination happened due to the situation with cops and African-Americans over the past year.  For bullying, I will have to reserve judgment until I see the report for the 2015-2016 school year.

8. More bills will be introduced AND passed to limit the power of the Delaware DOE, Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education

Not really.  If anything the DOE grew more bold after Mark Murphy left.  Recent months have proved that more than any other time.  But in terms of the legislators, the only thing I can think of which may limit power is placing the State Board of Education under Sunset review.

9. US DOE will approve extension for teacher accountability and the Smarter Balanced Assessment

The US DOE did approve this extension for the 2015-2016 school year, but as I wrote yesterday, this year is another matter.

10. The four Wilmington school districts will become two and Brandywine will cause major problems during the process

Absolutely not!  I can’t recall if the WEAC recommendations came out when I wrote this, but nothing has happened at this point in terms of redistricting.  Brandywine and Colonial did bow out of sending their Wilmington students to Red Clay though, so in a sense it was kind of/sort of right.  But Brandywine didn’t really cause any problems.  But Colonial bowing out was a point of contention for a time.

 

Delaware Special Education Due Process Hearing Showcases What Rights A Parent Should NEVER Give Up

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

15 Months Later: No Answers From Office of Civil Rights On ACLU Complaint About Segregation In Delaware Schools

In December of 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and the Delaware Community Legal Aid filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education.  The complaint was against the State of Delaware and the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  The allegations in the complaint were around how the state and Red Clay, as charter school authorizers, allowed charters to develop segregation and discriminatory practices in their enrollment.  Almost three months later, after the ACLU gathered information from people around the state, they submitted the information to the Office of Civil Rights in their regional Philadelphia office.  Since then, their has been no official resolution on the matter.

Back in February, the Racial Justice Program of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation based out of New York reached out to the Office of Civil Rights for a status update.  This is what they received back:

OCRLetter21916

None of the charter schools listed in the complaint officially changed any of their admissions policies as a result of this.  The Delaware Enrollment Preferences Task Force submitted their final report to the General Assembly shortly before the holidays last year, and not one piece of legislation has come out to address the issues.  There is still a great amount of inequity in some Delaware charters compared to their neighboring school districts.  I find it ironic both the Delaware DOE and the US DOE are so concerned about civil rights groups when it comes to high-stakes testing and how opt out could bring us back to “dark days” as some have put it.  But when it comes to visible and transparent discrimination and segregation, the one office in the federal Government who could actually do something about it is sitting on it.

In looking at the OCR website at ed.gov there have been OCR complaints filed and resolved after the Delaware ACLU and Delaware Community Legal Aid filed their complaint.  One was filed in September of 2015 and received a resolution in February of this year.  The only cases showing from Delaware involved ones with Colonial School District, PolyTech and Family Foundations Academy from 2014.  The longstanding Christina OCR resolution doesn’t show on the list because it only counts resolutions from 2013 and up.

I don’t see civil rights groups in Wilmington screaming about this.  Why is that?  When it comes to education and segregation, this is a shining example.  Why are they so quiet on this issue but will say they know Smarter Balanced is a bad test but it is the only measurement for minority students to know if they are succeeding or not compared to their peers?  I have to wonder how much influence the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell may have in making this drag out.  Or possibly even higher up than them.  Are any of our Delaware congressmen following up on this?  John Carney?  Tom Carper?  Chris Coons?  Or how about even Delaware’s own Vice-President Joe Biden?  I’m certain this isn’t a resolution the Delaware Charter Schools Network wants to come out any time soon.

We need to rally civil rights groups on issues like this and not ones about opposition of parent opt out of high-stakes tests.  I am calling on ALL Civil Rights groups to hammer the Office of Civil Rights office in Philadelphia, phone number (215) 656-8541, to make sure they are not stalling on this very important case.

Thank you to Richard Morse, Esq. for the Delaware ACLU in responding to my request to his office for information and allowing me to publish the response from the Office of Civil Rights.

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.

Can Restorative Justice Change Our Schools?

Drew Serres, a member of the Coalition for Fairness & Equity in School, wrote an excellent letter to the editor in the News Journal today about Restorative Justice and suspensions in Delaware Schools.

Since its passage, House Bill 85 has been adversely affecting all students; but it has had a disproportionate effect on students of color and those with disabilities. For instance, African-American and Latino students are suspended three-to-four times more than their white peers, even when they represent a substantially low enrollment rate overall.

This legislation goes back to 1993.  Which is about the time when all of the zero tolerance practices came into play.  Personally, I think some schools cherry-pick students when it comes to discipline and suspensions.  Discrimination rears its ugly head in strange ways in Delaware.

I am lucky. The school policies when I was growing up allowed me to learn from my mistakes. I think all children deserve that opportunity as well.

There are certain offenses that should cause suspensions, in my opinion, especially fighting.  But what do we do when someone is just defending their self when someone attacks them.  If no adult can stop it in time, should another student allow himself to be pummeled?  In today’s world, that student would be suspended as well.  I have been told by a school administrator that if a student puts his hands over his face, that is sufficient.  Really?  That makes the difference?  I don’t condone fighting, but if students have to protect themselves than they should be allowed to do it.  My issue is adults not intervening in time.  I know, fights can happen in an instant, and I don’t blame teachers or school staff for actual fighting.  But I do think they can keep a more watchful eye on students to begin with, especially during transition times, recess, or lunch.

Restorative justice is a model of discipline based on appropriate consequences for a student’s poor behavior and reconciliation of the student and the school system. It is a process where offenders, instead of just being punished, have the opportunity to restore the harm done to the community. It is actually a lot more work for the offender, but instead of feeling ostracized and criminalized they are given the opportunity to restore their inner sense of worth and to get on a path where they learn how to contribute.

My biggest question out of this is how this is dealt with when a student with disabilities has “poor behavior” and doesn’t understand their bad behavior because it is a result of a neurological disability.  All too often, students with disabilities are ostracized in schools because they don’t understand.  Can inclusion truly work in this type of environment or are we putting these kids through the wringer?  I’m all for change because the way it is now just isn’t working.

In the Christina School District, they were mandated by the Office of Civil Rights to reduce the amount of suspensions because African-Americans were being disproportionately suspended.  As a result, they went from zero tolerance to what they have now.  They still have the issues going on they had before the OCR complaint.  However, I have been told by many teachers in Christina they are told not to report infractions because of the OCR mandates.  That just makes the situation worse, but the district is beholden to Federal law in this situation.  As a result, parents who see this do not want to have their child attend Christina schools and they choice them out to charter schools.  As a result, Christina loses a lot of local funding.  This double-edged sword doesn’t work, so we need to do something.

With all the pressure put on teachers on a district, state, and federal level and the demands on their time, do they actually have the time to establish restorative justice techniques between test prep, evaluations, instruction, professional development and test prep?  I heard many teachers had a hard enough time submitting grades into the state E-School system last weekend, on their days off, because the DOE decided that would be a good time to do an upgrade on the system.  Furthermore, if administrators aren’t willing to practice what they preach, will these children be able to separate authority from adults with bad behavior?  If administrators come down on students with an iron fist but at the same time try these techniques on them, it sends a very mixed message that can be very confusing to a student, especially the younger ones.  This obviously depends on the type of behavior exhibited by the student, but this is a very fine line.

What this doesn’t take into account is home life.  If a child’s parents just don’t care enough to practice restorative justice in the home, will a student be able to carry this into school?  Take Christina for example.  As a result of school choice, the “better” students have left.  This leaves the schools with all the perceived “troublemakers”.  If a “troublemaker” choices out, chances are they will be back if the charter counsels them out or expels them.  This leaves a disproportionate number of “troublemakers” in schools.  I can’t stand when these students are referred to as animals.  I truly can’t.  Yes, they have bad behavior and they make bad choices, but to refer to them as barbaric or animalistic demeans them as a human being.

These are tough questions, and I won’t pretend to have all the answers.  But we need to find those answers fast as more lives are lost to the justice system.

Special Education Complaints Increasing At A Federal Level

According to an article in Disability Scoop, found right here, complaints to the Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Education are rising.  And they have been over a six year period.  They are not sure if it’s because parents are more aware of their rights or if it is something more.

I think it’s because of that and also because of Common Core and standardized testing.  Ever since Race To The Top came out, schools have changed. It’s no longer about being able to give more one-on-one attention.  It’s about prepping for the big test in many schools.  What I would like to see is how many of those complaints are from traditional schools and how many are from charter schools.  The article doesn’t break it down.

In 2009, 3,000 complaints were filed.  Last year, it was 3,900.  There is a very strong correlation between the advent of Common Core and these types of complaints rising.  If you are a special needs parent, please educate yourself and know your child’s rights, especially if they are in a lower grade.  This is a pivotal time for them and they need you to fight for them!

Why Am I Always Picking On Delaware Charter Schools?

The obvious answer to my title would be “because it’s easy”.  It’s not like I create these stories.  They do it themselves.  I just bring them to light for all of Delaware to see.  Take Prestige Academy, and their board meeting at a tavern where they didn’t have a quorum and voted on stuff anyways.  I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.  I knew Jack Perry was “resigning”, so I thought I would see what their board minutes say.  I wasn’t looking for anything sinister.  By the time I got to their board minutes, and I saw what I saw, it was just another example of a Delaware charter school doing whatever the hell they want, regardless of the law.

I get a great deal of flack on Kilroy’s Delaware in the comments section when I say something negative about charters.  There’s one guy named Publius.  You would think the charters could no wrong, and because the ability for “choice” is out there, it is the charters God-given right for any type of pre-assessment before a prospective student is selected.  Another guy, named lastDEconservative, will side with Publius every chance he gets.  They have their opinion, and I have mine.  But because I want to try to help people, I have a big head and I won’t agree with anyone’s opinion but my own.  Or so they say.  I think they are hoping I will just go away, but that just encourages me to fight harder. Continue reading

DE Community Legal Aid Disabilities Law Program Needs Public Input NOW!!!!

The Disabilities Law Program of Community Legal Aid has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alleging that the State of Delaware permits the charter schools to engage in practices that reduce the number of students with disabilities, students of color and students whose first language is not English who attend the schools.  They are looking for individuals to add to their complaint this month.  They are looking for students of color or students with disabilities who were denied entry to a charter school or did not apply to a specific charter school because of what they had heard about the school, and for families who did not apply to high performing charter schools because they did not know they were public schools.   They are also looking for students who have been pushed out of charters because of their disability needs.

If you or your friends have had these experiences, please contact Marissa Band,  (302) 575-0600, ext. 228, or Richard Morse, (302) 654-5326, ext. 103, for possible inclusion in the complaint.

 

ACLU Complaint Against Delaware Charters, The State, and Red Clay

The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and Community Legal Aid, Inc. announced at a press conference today that they have filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in regards to the re-segregation of Delaware schools going back to the Charter School Law of 1995.  The complaint, embedded below, is going after the state and Red Clay over discrimination against minorities, as well as low-income and disabled students.

Many in the state have suspected something like this was coming, but I did not think the scope would be this big.  The ramifications of just an announcement of this proportion are very huge for education in Delaware.

CONTACT: Kathleen MacRae, ACLU-DE Executive Director—302.654.5326 x102, kmacrae@aclu-de.org ; Brian Hartman, CLASI Disabilities Law Program Project Director—302.575.0660 x220; bhartman@declasi.org

ACLU and CLASI File Complaint with Office of Civil Rights

CONTACT: Kathleen MacRae, ACLU-DE Executive Director—302.654.5326 x102, kmacrae@aclu-de.org ; Brian Hartman, CLASI Disabilities Law Program Project Director—302.575.0660 x220; bhartman@declasi.org

Wilmington, DE (December 3, 2014) — The American Civil Liberties Union and Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. filed a complaint today with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education arguing that Delaware’s charter school law and policies have a discriminatory impact on students of color and students with disabilities and have significantly contributed to the resegregation of Delaware’s public schools. Specifically, the complaint claims that the State of Delaware through the Department of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District, the two entities that authorize public charter schools in the state, are in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Every student in the State of Delaware deserves equal access to a high-quality education,” said Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware. “But what has evolved since the passage of the Charter School Act of 1995 is state-sanctioned preferential treatment for families who are able to navigate the special requirements of charter school admissions.

“These include such things as high examination scores; essays written by parents to explain why a school is a good choice for their child; access to gifted and talented elementary and middle school programs that help increase academic performance; annual activities fees; mandatory parent involvement, sometimes in fundraising; and mandatory high-cost uniform purchases. These barriers prevent students from low-income African American and Hispanic families from having the same access to high quality charter schools that middle and upper class families have.

“We hope that the Office of Civil Rights recognizes that any system of selection that has the effect of almost completely excluding children with disabilities from the ‘high-achieving’ charter schools is deeply disturbing and must constitute illegal discrimination,” says Dan Atkins, Legal Advocacy Director of the Disabilities Law Program of Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.

It’s terribly unfair to the children with disabilities who should have earned their place in those schools, and it sends a harmful and hurtful message, really to everyone, to continue to shut those students out. We look forward to working with the federal government, the State of Delaware, and Red Clay Consolidated School District to develop criteria that integrate more students with disabilities. This is consistent with the State and Federal Government’s mission to provide equal educational opportunities to all children—regardless of race, income, and disability.”

Racially Identifiable Schools

The complaint documents that over three-quarters of charter schools operating in Delaware are racially identifiable. High performing charter schools are almost entirely racially identifiable as White. Low income students and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to failing charter schools and charter schools that are racially identifiable as African American or Hispanic, none of which are high performing.

Another result of the proliferation of charter schools is increased segregation in traditional public schools located in districts where charter schools operate. In addition, when the impact of the Neighborhood Schools Act of 2000 is considered, inner city school children have no good alternatives—they may attend a hyper-segregated traditional public school or attend a hyper-segregated charter school. When charter schools admit a disproportionate number of higher-income White students with no disabilities, the traditional public schools are left with the difficult and costly task of educating the students most challenged by poverty or special education needs.

Recommendations

In order to remedy the current situation regarding Delaware public schools, the ACLU and CLASI urge:

  • A moratorium on the authorization and opening of new charter schools until an effective desegregation plan has been implemented;
  • Utilization of a random opt-out lottery for charter school admissions;
  • Assurance that the cost of attending a public charter school is free and that parents are not required or pressured to purchase uniforms or raise money for the school;
  • Capping class size in traditional public schools at the same level as charter schools and ensuring that total funding for traditional public schools is equal to that of charter schools;
  • Providing additional funding to schools with a disproportionately high number of students of color, students with special needs and low-income students;
  • A plan to ensure that students with disabilities are recruited and reasonably accommodated in all charter schools.

Charter Schools Under The Microscope in Delaware…Again! @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de #netde #eduDE

Due to academic performance frameworks, special education issues, application enrollment preference controversies, and another failing charter school in Delaware, charter schools in Delaware are being looked at in a negative light in Delaware.

According to Kilroy’s Delaware, a mandatory request was put out to all Delaware charter schools to meet with the Delaware Department of Education. As per Kilroy, the United States Department of Education is not very happy with the Delaware DOE’s method of evaluating charter schools through their academic performance framework. This has played in the charter schools favor in annual performance calculations. Because charters are stand-alone districts, many of their subgroups do not count in proficiency models due to a low number in some of the subgroups. As a result, this makes the charters look better in certain circumstances.

As well, the Office of Civil Rights has been investigating Delaware charter schools for quite a long time now. All Delaware charter schools were told by the OCR to let them see applications for two years. Anyone can look at the school profiles section on the DOE website and see clearly where certain charters are either very low in special education students or minorities. These allegations have been made against the Delaware charters as well as ones around the USA for many years now.

I am hearing from many parents in Delaware how the month of September has been the worst ever at some Delaware charters for special education. Either IEP requests are flat-out being denied, or evaluations are not being done, or already-existent IEP accommodations aren’t even happening. Students are being treated as behavior issues and not as a student with disabilities. And yet the IEP task force has had two meetings and no one on the task force is even bringing this up. Everyone knows it happens, but no one wants to hold them accountable. I guess the charters are “too big to fail”. But we have yet another charter school that has done just that. Moyer’s second chance has resulted in a failure more disgusting then that of Pencader, the charter that was closed by the state last year. Moyer had one part-time special education worker in the school.

The state legislature and the DOE have made small inroads to fixing these issues, but nothing to hold them accountable for their biggest problems. And reform bills like House Bill 165 passed in 2013, has resulted in brand-new charters, open only for the 2014-2015 school year being given bonus money under a performance fund. Yes, you read that right.

Parents are slowly opening their eyes to the fact that the great charter experiment is not as grand as they thought. Schools that six months ago had no slots open or only a couple spots left in a few different grade levels, are now accepting applications for all grade levels. Brand new charters that haven’t even opened yet have gone under review for not being able to fill the minimum enrollment numbers. But the DOE and Governor Markell, in their most brilliant idea yet (please note the sarcasm here), have designated six public school district elementary schools as failing based on standardized test scores and have labeled them as “priority schools”. Everyone knows they will probably become charter schools eventually. What most don’t realize,  as  Kavips pointed out here: http://kavips.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/behind-the-choice-of-the-six/they are all within a mile of a building designed to hold multiple charter schools. Maybe this can explain the look of glee on Delaware Secretary Of Education Mark Murphy’s face during the priority schools announcement on September 4th. And there was also a Delaware state senator who could not stop smiling during this announcement. It’s all on Delawareonline. Yes, these are appropriate facial gestures when your boss is announcing what amounts to state takeovers of the schools with the most dire low-income students in the state. Unless it will benefit them somehow…

Update on Office of Civil Rights Investigation of Delaware Charter Schools #netde #eduDE @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de

I called the Office of Civil Rights in Philadelphia to find out the status of https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/breaking-news-office-of-civil-rights-wants-all-delaware-charter-school-applications-for-last-2-school-years-netde-edude/ and talked to the attorney from the PDF file.  This information was first published by Kilroy a couple months ago in response to the Board minutes from Newark Charter School.  I had a very lovely chat with the attorney in regards to what the OCR does and how they handle complaints in general.  I then asked about this particular case, and she was unable to give me current information on it.  She did say it is not closed.  Not much new information, but a couple people asked me about it.  No news is…no news!

Delaware Charter Schools Network: Change The Name Of Your IDEA Awards #netde #edude

Because you really aren’t fooling anyone into thinking this is part of the Federal IDEA, which stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. If you want to give awards to the students with special needs who survived the horrors of Delaware charter schools, I would gladly come to that. But let’s not pretend your awards are a bright idea, okay? It’s an insult to parents who had to go through your charter schools and have special needs be a visit through Dante’s nine circles of hell. This is for you Kendall Massett and Chuck Taylor.

As I viewed your website, I can see that you are quite smitten with terms usually used for special needs children. Words like IDEA, and then I see a whole section of your website with the word “Advocate”. I am VERY familiar with that word! I will take your suggestion and do some advocating! Items in bold are from their “advocate” section of the DCSN website.

1) Talk to your friends and neighbors about charter schools: I have done this in abundance. I have told them lots of things about the charts in DE. Like how many spec ed problems you folks seem to have, for starters.

2) There are some that still do not understand that charter schools are FREE public schools: Then why don’t you behave like free public schools? Hmmm….

3) There are some that still do not know all of the choices available in education: And let’s take a moment of thanks for these uninformed parents who would have no clue what their world was about to become.

4) There are some that still believe all the myths that are put forth about charter schools: It is no myth that many charters can discriminate against minorities and special needs children. I believe the letter from the Office Of Civil Rights should eliminate any myths about how great charter schools are.

5) You know what charter schools can provide: I sure as hell do! And so does my son! You can count on school psychologists not doing their job and special ed people who will agree with whatever the school shrink does!

6) We need you to speak the truth about what we are too: Oh, trust me, I have! You can read all about it here: http://kilroysdelaware.wordpress.com/a-fathers-cry-for-his-son-re-failure-of-a-delaware-charter-school-promise-netde-edude/

You can definitely shout out that story to the world. I won’t mind at all. In fact, I think you should give that story to anyone who wants to think about charter schools. Thanks for the fun DCSN. Let’s do it again!

Updated, 7/7/14, 9:07pm: The only charter school that is exempt from this post is Positive Outcomes Charter School. With a school that has 63% of their school population having IEPs, I will gladly count them as a school that knows what they are doing with special education.