#StopESEA @NEAToday @AFTunion @BadassTeachersA Do Not Endorse This Reauthorization, Very Bad For Teachers

To the members of the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teacher, and the Badass Teachers Association:

I know many of you are torn over the latest edition of the Elementary/Secondary Education Act reauthorization.  It looks great on the surface.  But embedded within are numerous “easter eggs” designed to steal your jobs right out from under you.  It won’t happen tomorrow.  It won’t happen a month from now.  This is the long con.  This bill will eventually replace the jobs you rightfully deserve, and will put data facilitators in your place.  Students will be plugged into their personalized learning modules, striving to pass their current unit standardized assessment.  K-12 will become a thing of the past.  The need for teacher instruction will be gone.  I’m going to take a wild guess that most of you don’t see this as a great leap forward in your profession.  So I have to ask, why are the leaders of the NEA and AFT urging members to endorse this reauthorization?  Why are they considering this the great change that will bring back the respect and standing you have lost over the years?  Start at your local level and bring it all the way up the food chain straight to NEA President Lily Eskelen Garcia and AFT President Randi Weingarten.  Let your locals know you are not happy with this.  The devil is in the details, and while many of you are glad teacher evaluations are being looked at in different lights, do not think for one second that the entire profession of teaching as you know it is not in serious jeopardy.  And I would urge Garcia and Weingarten to look out for their members and not play politics with so much at stake.  Our children’s teachers deserve better than this bill, and I think you both know this.

To the Badass Teachers: you are all awesome and I love your dedication to education!  Don’t change a thing about what you do, but do not endorse this horrible legislation!

Rodel’s Plan To Bring the Basis Charter Chain From Arizona To Delaware?

UPDATED, 12/8/14: I violated my own rule! I usually wait for two sources to verify the same information from different independent scenarios, but this one came from a source who has never been wrong. I’m not sure where my source got some of the specifics wrong, but the Delaware Charter School Network did not fly Delaware politicians to Arizona to tour Basis Schools. That was all the Friedman Foundation, who did fly some politicians from Delaware, including Deborah Hudson, to look at programs involving school vouchers.  However, it did lead me to some more Rodel connections to a very big chain of charter schools operating mainly out of Arizona, as well as San Antonio, TX and Washington D.C.

It was discovered today that the Delaware Charter School Network was flying a bunch of Wilmington, Delaware politicians out to Arizona tomorrow night to see “something very innovative”. Delaware resident and educator Superman, Mike Matthews, found out this adventure is so these politicians can take a look at the Basis Schools charter chain. When I heard this, I immediately thought of the Rodel Foundation of Arizona. Yes, Rodel isn’t just Delaware based, it’s also in Arizona. And take a wild guess who is on the board of Basis Schools? Yes, it’s Donald Budinger! One of the famous, wealthy members of the Budinger family of Delaware, who created the Rodel Foundation.

The Rodel Foundation of Delaware has even promoted Basis, going back to 2012: http://www.rodelfoundationde.org/daily-education-news-71012/ Continue reading

The Truth About Education Reform, Charter Schools, Standardized Testing & Big Profits @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @dwablog @nannyfat @ecpaige @TNJ_malbringt @DeDeptofEd #netde #eduDe #edchat

In a recent article in Politico magazine, entitled “The Plot Against Public Education: How Millionaires and Billionaires Are Ruining Our Schools”, writer Bob Hebert gave an excellent breakdown of how the education reform began and who profits the most from it.  As I’m sure we all know, it’s not the students or the teachers.  Billions of dollars have been wasted on this “reform” with no increase in results over time.  It all started with Bill Gates and has spiraled downhill from there.

Tonight is the Wilmington City Council meeting, and Delaware Secretary Of Education Mark Murphy will be in attendance to discuss the priority schools with the council.  Someone should give each council member a copy of this article so they know what the true endgame is here.

I’ve posted a link to the article, and a big thanks to State Representative Paul Baumbach for posting it over on Delaware Liberal.  The below quote are two questions that parents should be asking themselves at this point in time.

Those who are genuinely interested in improving the quality of education for all American youngsters are faced with two fundamental questions: First, how long can school systems continue to pursue market-based reforms that have failed year after demoralizing year to improve the education of the nation’s most disadvantaged children? And second, why should a small group of America’s richest individuals, families, and foundations be allowed to exercise such overwhelming—and often such toxic—influence over the ways in which public school students are taught?

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/the-plot-against-public-education-111630.html#ixzz3FfXytA7C

DOOM comes to schools in Delaware! Parents, Go To School Board Meetings This Month, and do this…

Okay Delaware parents!  This is it.  It’s October and the DOE is very occupied with this priority school takeover.  That’s a good thing.  Cause every single parent in the state who has a child in a public school needs to go to their district’s school board meeting this month and do one easy thing.  And trust me when I tell you some of them WANT you to do this!  But first, here is a schedule of each district’s board meetings:

October 7th, Tuesday: Charter School of Wilmington

October 8th, Wednesday: Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, Odyssey

October 9th, Thursday: Lake Forest

October 14th, Tuesday: Appoquinimink, Christina, Colonial, Polytech

October 15th, Wednesday: Capital, Laurel, Red Clay Consolidated, Smyrna, Woodbridge, Positive Outcomes, Sussex Academy

October 20th, Monday: Seaford, Delaware College Prep, Delaware Military Academy, Sussex Tech, Thomas Edison

October 21st, Tuesday : Delmar, Family Foundations, Gateway, Newark Charter School, Prestige Academy

October 22nd, Wednesday: Campus Community, East Side Charter, MOT, Reach Academy,

October 23rd, Thursday: Cape Henlopen, Aspiras Academy

October 27th, Monday: Brandywine, Indian River, Milford, New Castle County Vo-Tech, Providence Creek

October 28th, Tuesday: Caesar Rodney, Moyer

*No definitive meeting time posted for Academy of Dover and Kuumba Academy

Now that you know when to go to the board meetings for your child’s school, this is what you need to do. Write a letter indicating you want to opt out your child from the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Make sure the letter has your child’s name, your name, what grade they are in, what school it is, and the date. It doesn’t matter what your reason is for the opt out, because it is your right as a parent. Bring the letter with you to the board meeting and sign up for public comment. Indicate on the public comment list that you will only speak for about 20 seconds. When it is your turn to speak, announce your name, where you live, and where your child goes to school. Then just say these very easy words “My son/daughter ________ will not take the Smarter Balanced Assessment. I am opting them out. Thank you.” And then hand the board president your letter.

So now that you know what this is for, DOOM stands for Delaware Opt Out Month.

Charter and vocational schools, this includes you as well. We haven’t heard too much from parents at the charters about these tests, but then again we don’t know how much you may or may not know about this test. We know teachers at charter schools aren’t really digging the Common Core standards, but they won’t speak of it. If anyone is praising it to the high heavens they are either a) part of some education group sponsored by the DOE or state government, or b) has received some type of great praise or bonus money. It’s very dangerous for your children. Secretary of Education Mark Murphy expects 70% of children to fail the test. How would he know that? Because he has seen how bad students did on the field test last Spring. The Delaware Department of Education hasn’t released those scores or findings yet because they know the backlash will be incredible.

I wouldn’t rely on your PTO or PTA to do anything either. They will have to rely on their state or national organization, and those entities are sitting on the fence, either waiting to vote on it or trying to find out parent’s stance on the matter. It isn’t up to them for you to opt your child out of high-stakes testing. Sure, it adds additional support. The school boards don’t necessarily have to decide either. The teachers can’t publicly speak out about it for fear of losing their jobs. They have the most to lose as their annual review will be tied to this test, which is taken once a year. This is a parent thing. It is your fundamental right to do this. If enough parents do this, the funding threat won’t matter, because the state is not going to cut funding on all schools. Their would be a revolution, especially since they never fully restored funding cuts to education during the recession.

The Delaware DOE received over $100 million in Race To The Top funding. Instead of using those funds to restore that funding (Race To The Top amounted to a very small part of the state budget for education), they spent the money on beefing up the DOE, hiring data coaches, teacher effectiveness groups, and a iot of other wasteful spending. This has been a mess since it began, and your children will suffer from this test. How many times have you looked at their homework and said “What the hell is this?” How many times have you seen them reading a book that you thought was completely inappropriate for their age? Have you noticed more behavior problems with your child? This is because the teachers have so much pressure to drill the daily lesson plan for Common Core so they don’t get behind. The students also have a ridiculous amount of pressure to keep up. The teachers are speeding through material so fast they don’t have a lot of time for proper review of the material. A good deal of the material is beyond the child’s capability of understanding as well. Don’t believe Common Core is meant for catching up with China and other Asian countries. Don’t believe it is there to make your child ready for college and not have to take remedial classes. If you are a parent of a special needs child, the writing is already on the wall for the toll this is having on our most vulnerable of children

After the Delaware DOE’s diabolical agenda with the priority schools, and using test scores that are no longer valid (DCAS) to pump up charter schools, it is obvious the DOE is going to manipulate any scores for their own twisted agendas.  So don’t let them do it.

This is a bold, risky endeavor. But it needs to happen. Parents need to take back education. You will get resistance, and you will be told this can’t happen. It doesn’t matter. Because it is YOUR decision. Not the school, not the government, and not Governor Markell. Certain school boards have already reached this decision. You may start to see some of them voting on this already. But your child’s fate rests in your hands. Do the right thing!

Kilroy Asked Me What I Think Of Delaware Secretary Of Education Mark Murphy! Well… @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @BadassTeachersA @DelawareBats #netde #eduDE

What do I think of Secretary of Education Mark Murphy?  This question of me in a sidebar conversation by the famous Delaware blogger, Kilroy, of Kilroy’s Delaware fame.  This is a pretty loaded question, because I have several opinions.

Personally, I don’t know the man.  Nor would I want to.  We don’t travel in the same circles, and for better or worse (go with the latter), he is the executive director of my son’s education in Delaware.  With that being said…

He is extremely incompetent.  I’ve been to a few Delaware Board of Education meetings, and when he talks, I want to laugh.  For the most part, he plays up the parts of education that I abhor the most.  Charter Schools, Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment are his babies, and when he talks about them, it’s like watching a kid play on Xbox for the first time.  The glee, the sickening joy in his eyes, the elfish smile on his face…

I have seen him get upset once at a Board of Ed meeting.  That was the last one, when the results of the Delaware teacher effectiveness ratings came out.  And no Delaware teachers were rated ineffective.  0%!  Man, did that piss off Murphy!  He looked like someone took away that Xbox!  He was visibly angry, and it was obvious he was going to have none of that!

I view his climb to the top of education in our state with shock and no awe.  Everyone continues this sentence with “He started out as a gym teacher.”  And that isn’t true.  Before that, he worked at a residential treatment center.  I have no idea which one, or what he did there.  These treatment centers are where students with disabilities get sent when the school and the home have run out of options.  I would think Murphy would have a pretty good understanding of what these students need if he decided to work at one.  I couldn’t be more wrong.

What has become of special education under Murphy’s watch is a nightmare of epic proportions.  What he has done to education in general is even worse.  He is Governor Jack Markell’s golden boy to implement whatever Jack wants.  And as a result, Murphy has become a charter loving Common Core high-stakes test worshipping special education hating maniac.  But when the going gets tough, like yesterday at the big meeting between the DOE and the superintendents of the low-income priority schools, Murphy was nowhere to be found.  He’s the Secretary of friggin’ Education for the state and he was a no-show!  What could be more important than this meeting?  As I commented on Kavips blog, maybe he got confused between priority and priory schools!  When I see him at Board meetings, he rarely speaks.  He’s constantly looking at what appears to be a cell phone and adjusting his glasses.  It looks like the last place he wants to be.

Under Murphy’s watch, we have seen Common Core suck the life out of teachers, students and parents.  We’ve seen special education go from something halfway between okay and sucks to really sucks. We’ve seen charter school applications increase rapidly.  We’ve seen half of Delaware’s race to the top money get kept by the Delaware DOE.  We’ve seen the first sign of the Apocalypse, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  We’ve seen him hire 29 year olds to become the new Chief Of Accountability for the DOE.  We’ve seen a non-elected state Board of Education do nothing that would contradict Murphy or Jack.  We’ve seen him support the destruction of the public school system by getting jacked-up legislation passed that will judge teachers on how a student tests one time a year on The Clockwork Orange Smarter Balanced Test.  We’ve seen him not give appropriate funding to schools who need it the most and then support the utter insanity of having the state take those schools back to turn them into charter schools.  We’ve seen him support breaking up teacher’s unions by coming out with a Memorandum Of Understanding to two school districts that appears to be plagiarized from other states’ similar edicts (Thanks for that one JY!).  We’ve seen tens of millions of dollars go out of state to residential treatment centers because Murphy can’t run the ball on special education right and God knows what else he has cooking with that!  We’ve seen him bow to the “masters of education” in Rodel and the Vision year crap, which are just more fronts for the Common Core agenda.

So do I have a high opinion of the guy?  Hell no!  If I could sum it up in a few sentences, it would be this.  You have only one pair of shoes.  You step in gum.  The gum won’t get off your shoe no matter how hard you try.  It annoys the hell out of you, and it affects you every time you put your damn shoes on.  And you can’t buy new shoes, so you are stuck with this crap on your shoes, all the time.  Mark Murphy is the gum on my shoe that just won’t go away.  And he has played this role for every public school student, teacher and parent.

What The Hell Markell? DE DOE To Meet In Secret Meeting With Red Clay & Christina Supers, Board and Elected Officials Banned From Attending! #netde #eduDE @BadassTeachersA @delawareonline

Later today, the superintendents are having a top-secret, non-public meeting at the Delaware DOE.  This is in regards to the priority schools in the Christina and Red Clay Consolidated School Districts.  Board members of both districts do not appear to be happy about this at all.  The MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) concerning these schools is due by September 30th.

Six elementary schools from the districts were picked by Governor Markell last week to receive about $6 million over five years.  The problem is additional administrators will be forced upon the schools at a price tag of $160,000 each, which is above the average administrator price tag in Delaware.  When all is said and done, this really isn’t leaving the schools with much left over money each year to get the services they desperately need.

The boards of the school have been discussing what to do.  If they say no to the MOU, then there is a chance the state could take over the schools.  And many have guessed they would then become charter schools.  But who owns the buildings?  The districts.  So would the state have to buy the buildings or rent them from the districts?  And what happens with the teachers.   They have union representation, and contracts to uphold with the districts.

What becomes of the students?  These are already low income Title 1 schools.  They also have high populations of special education students.  That much chaos and upheaval is never good for a normal student, much less students with disabilities.

It remains to be seen what this meeting will be about, but some legislators aren’t happy.  From Delaware House Representative John Kowalko on Kilroy’s Delaware last night:

Although I never received an answer to the email request I made to DOE seeking an invite i will be going to this meeting tomorrow at the Carvel bldg. Despite a phone conversation I had with a DOE top staffer who had the audacity to say my attendance would be inappropriate I will be attending. Although it was difficult to suppress my anger at the thought that an “appointed” staffer would presume to tell a duly “elected” official what was appropriate or inappropriate about his or her responsibilities I will be attending. Because I represent thousands of households with thousands of children in the CSD and because I have served for eight years on the House Education committee and witnessed first-hand the debacle of the previous MOU re partnership zone schools and the Glasgow outrage, I will be attending. My obligation to all children in the state public school system, to the taxpaying families that support the school system, to my constituents, to the educators who daily fight to fulfill the needs of the children (while money has been taken and not returned to the public school system) is all of the justification I’ll ever need to know it is appropriate for me to attend. It is my sworn duty and obligation to question and challenge the non-educator salesmen who contrive solutions that have no basis in data accumulated effectiveness and fail to address the obvious needs of an impoverished America forced to live on handouts rather than face the reality of poverty driven failures in public education. It is my sworn obligation to look into the eyes of the RODELS and VISION 2015…2021 et.al. and their solicitors and messengers who would rather control the dialogue and set the stage and sell the tickets to an audience that is best kept in the dark. Yes I will attend and it is absolutely appropriate that I do.
State Representative John Kowalko (25th District)

Damn!  That is one pissed off elected official.  And he has every right to be.  This situation is escalating very fast, and it sounds like the districts are being pitted with the boards on one side and the superintendents on the other.  The boards do have other options, and this could become very ugly.

Nancy Willing of Delaware Way blog fame has an excellent post on this: http://delawareway.blogspot.com/2014/09/are-markell-and-ddoe-holding-up-our.html

Parents Either Hate Common Core or Love It. Where Most Special Needs Parents Fit. #netde #eduDE

I would say based on feedback through this blog, Facebook, and Twitter, 90% of parents of special needs loathe and despise Common Core. The other 10%, they love it. I have to wonder why they stick up for it like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I debated back and forth with one mother on Facebook last week for a long time about the subject. She claimed that Common Core is so much better than what they had before in California. She is also a public school teacher. When I brought up the matter of the standardized tests, she was for them. But she admitted that her children hated them and found them to be very difficult due to so many essays on the test. And she didn’t like the curriculum being forced to adhere to the way the state wanted it. But she felt the theory behind it was good.

Then there was the father from Maryland, also a public school teacher, who thought it was excellent. He felt it helps the kids to improve and do better. He also said that allegations that resistance to common core is “political motivated fear mongering” and that I was “seeing conspiracies where there are none.” I guess half the population must be crazy and we are all seeing things. His child attends a charter school in Maryland that has revitalized the community around it. Glad one of them can do that.

These were both parents with children with special needs. But like I’ve said, they were by far the minority of how parents feel about this federal intrusion into the rights and laws that were created for our children. This debate will go on for a long time until it’s gone. Hopefully, that will be soon if what I’m hearing is correct. But if not, the debate continues.

Horrible Special Education & Discrimination in Charter Schools isn’t just a Delaware thing, USA Snapshot #netde #eduDE @delaware_gov

Delaware charters have become well known for being very bad at accommodating children with special needs.  It’s not all of them, but the bulk of them have a very hard time giving children what is required by federal law.  Recently, Kendall Massett, the executive director for the Delaware Charter School Network, wrote an article on a Delaware blog asking parents to tell why charters are so great.  To get the word out about why parents should choice their children to charters.  She also talked about how her organization wants to get more charters in Delaware’s other two counties, Kent and Sussex.  No thank you, Kendall.  We have more than enough.  Until your “great” charters fully follow the law, I don’t want to hear about MORE charters in Delaware.

To be fair though, I decided to see if this is just a Delaware issue.  It’s not.  It’s all over the country.  New York, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and more.  I went through different search sites, and found an overwhelming amount of links.  All I put in was “charter schools not accommodating special needs”, and they appeared.  I’m going to put several links up, and I encourage every special needs parent and non-special needs parent around the country to pass the word around about America’s charter schools!

Included in these articles are special education issues, as well as numerous other tactics and illegal activities America’s charter schools have accomplished in their 18 year existence.  Well done charters!

Massachusetts: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/07/13/charter-school-battle-erodes-middle-ground/ehBkNEg8rtplHN1Gta18CK/comments.html?p1=ArticleTab_Comments_ Continue reading

Special Education Statistics Part III: Kent County Publics vs Charters #netde #eduDE @delaware_gov

Kent County is a unique place.  It is considered part of “slower lower”, but the capital of the state is in Dover.  All the major decisions about the state occur here, even though the majority of the population lives in Newcastle County.  The schools in Kent County are also unique.

Seven school districts are in Kent County.  Capital, Caesar Rodney, Lake Forest, and Polytech are all within the borders of Kent County.  Smyrna overlaps into Newcastle County, while Woodbridge and Milford share district space with both Kent and Sussex .  There are only four charter schools in Kent County: Academy of Dover, Campus Community, Providence Creek and Positive Outcomes.  Of the four charters, their special education population is as follows:

Academy of Dover: 8.4% (26 out of 308)

Campus Community School: 9% (37 out of 411)

Providence Creek Academy: 4.4% (31 out of 697)

Positive Outcomes: 63.3% (76 out of 120)

Positive Outcomes is the exception to the rule when it comes to special education in Delaware.  The school primarily serves students with special needs and behavior issues, so it is no surprise they would fully accommodate in those situations.  The other three…that’s different.  Both Academy of Dover and Campus Community have a high percentage of lower income and African-American students, so in that aspect, it doesn’t appear charter school enrollment preference affects income or race.  But with a state average of 13.5-13.9% for special education, those numbers are much lower than their public school peers.  So where are all the special needs children going?  Certainly not Polytech, a vocational high school (the only school in that district).  Their average is 9.3% (112 out of 1,206).  So this would leave the public schools to deal with this student population.

Caesar Rodney: 13.6% (1,046 out of 7,677)

Capital: 17% (997 out of 6,442)

Lake Forest: 13% (479 out of 3,687)

Milford: 12.3% (507 out of 4,168)

Smyrna: 13.5% (697 out of 5,163)

I’m not going to include Woodbridge since most of the school district is within Sussex County.

So we can definitely see the public schools are taking in much higher populations of special needs children than the charter schools in the area.  Why is this?  Pretty much the same answer as the rest of the charters in the state.  They don’t want them.  This is why they put sections on their applications  with questions like “Does your child have an IEP” or “Does your child have any special education needs”.  They want to weed them out.  Not including Positive Outcomes obviously, the other three charter schools have a total of  7 complex special education students, and they are all at Academy of Dover.  Both Campus Community and Providence Creek Academy have NONE.  I guess autistic children aren’t welcome there.  What does FAPE stand for again?

Smyrna School District seems to take the bulk of special needs children in the area.  The majority of students that go to Providence Creek reside in Smyrna, and then Capital.  Since Providence Creek can only accommodate 26 special needs students, but the other 671 are “normal”, that must be an acceptable sacrifice for them.  But hey, they should feel lucky.  Their special education population actually went down from 4.7% in 2013 to 4.4% in 2014.  Less burden for them.

Further south in Kent County are the  Caesar Rodney, Milford and Lake Forest districts.  Some children from there go to the charters in Kent County, but the further south you go the less likely this is.  Their special education numbers seem to be near the state average.

Capital School District’s special education numbers are much higher than everyone else.  They also have the Kent County Community School, which serves the Delaware Autistic Program (DAP) for autistic students in grades K-12.

No new charter schools have opened in Kent County in many, many years, and that’s probably a good thing.  I wouldn’t mind at all if Positive Outcomes opened a K-6 school.  Maybe they can take over one of the other schools.  In the meantime, parents of Kent County, I would be very wary about sending any special needs child to a charter school in Dover, unless it is Positive Outcomes.  I have heard from parents who let one or two of their kids stay at a charter school but they send their special needs child to a public school.  This must be a huge pain in the ass for these families.  The charter school should be more than capable of handling a special needs child.  The big lingering question is this- why aren’t they?

 

 

Meet Kathy Willis, A Delaware Advocate For Children with Special Needs #netde #edude

 

I have the extreme pleasure of posting an interview I recently had with Kathy Willis. Kathy is an advocate for children with special needs and disabilities in the state of Delaware. She has attended several Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings to support parents in helping to get the accommodations their children need in IEP and 504 plans. I met Kathy last month through Kilroys, and I believe she is a great person in our state to help our children. Kathy’s story is below, and she has gone through several of the same struggles many parents have in Delaware. But she turned dark times into something positive that has been truly beneficial for parents. I don’t know if the DOE and the state government realizes how many of us are out there, trying to champion this cause. It can be as an advocate, or a blogger, or as a parent attending a support group. Without further ado, please meet Kathy Willis!

I understand you have children with disabilities. Did you have any struggles with any schools in Delaware?

I have two children with disabilities. My son has Asperger’s Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADD, severe casein intolerance (casein is a protein in milk), expressive language delay, and medical issues. Also, to make it even more complicated he is twice exceptional, which means he is gifted with a learning disability. My daughter has mild to moderate dyslexia, and has an average to above average IQ.

We have had problems with both of their schools.

My story started with my son. We always knew he became extremely stressed during the school year. He was never a behavior problem, but he hated school to the point it made him physically sick. We home schooled off and on most of his life because of his severe anxiety. In 9th grade, he went to a charter school, and he was so incredibly stressed that he would literally rip his fingernails off to the point he would bleed.  He would spend hours upon hours doing his homework, and he would literally hit his head and say “I am just so stupid.”

We actually wanted to bring him back home. He was happy and content when we homeschooled him. He was incredibly bright and easy to home school. However, he decided he wanted to stick it out at this charter school. We supported him in this decision, but we grew more and more concerned as his anxiety increased. In November of 9th grade, he had a serious medical issue with rapidly developing pectus carinatum. He had numerous doctor visits, including a trip to the New York area for a brace fitting several times.

I had been in touch with the school’s Educational Diagnostician (ED) after a teacher referred her to me. She seemed nice, and at the time I actually trusted her. I actually updated her on my son’s medical condition during our visits to see specialists as far as California, and thought of her as a friend at the time. I had asked several times to have him evaluated, and that I knew something was wrong. I grew frustrated, as she seemed to ignore my requests for months. I began to study Delaware special education laws and Wrightslaw (link to http://www.wrightslaw.com/)

I finally put my request for an evaluation in writing, and she finally did a very basic and completely lacking evaluation. In the end, he basically scored 4 years ahead in most areas except written expression. (I guess I did a good job with homeschooling!) Due to his disability, he was on a kindergarten level in written expression. I didn’t know much about what this meant at the time, but when the ED suggested he sit with her to learn basic grammar at lunchtime, I knew something was not right. He had scored four years ahead in basic grammar, sentence structure, and spelling so how would learning basic grammar help him? It just didn’t make sense. At first, I politely said that I did not agree, and paid for an occupational therapy (OT) evaluation independently. We learned he had many deficits, and we paid over $6000.00 in OT to help him. The school later hired an OT of their own to write a report on our OT’s evaluation, which of course she disagreed with. The ridiculous part was that she had never met my son, nor had she ever evaluated him. I personally think she should lose her OT license.

The story grew from here as my son’s struggles increased. We started noticing that he was getting all A’s and B’s, but he was not completing assignments because he was unable to do it. His nature is to please, and despite hours of trying he couldn’t express himself in writing. He could answer a multiple choice with almost 100% accuracy, but he could not write about the same information. Assignments that were supposed to be five paragraphs long, he would only write two sentences and get an A+. I really grew concerned because he was still so stressed and he knew he wasn’t able to do the assignments, and a teacher told me that I needed to be concerned because he would never make it in college.

I began to request that he have some help with his writing. I was so naive at first that I just asked for a few minutes each week. I was repeatedly denied. We finally hired an advocate, and she was appalled at the behavior at an IEP meeting. The ED denied saying he needed instruction in basic grammar despite it being written in the actual evaluation as a recommendation. She accused me of only wanting a 504 plan, and that I refused an IEP despite literally 100s of emails begging for help. I even told her that I didn’t understand the difference in an IEP or a 504 plan.

We had an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) completed that stated he needed an IEP for a learning disability in written expression. However, the IEE also stated that his grades were good so it was questionable how much he needed. We later found out that the teachers had lied and provided false information to the evaluator. I am so thankful for the Home Access Center, and we were able to print out his actual grades. I found that at one point he was missing 13 out of 23 assignments, but still had an A+ in his English class. I saved every assignment and grade, and found that he was only writing the two sentences for five paragraph essays. He was graded A+ for those papers. It was unreal what they were doing to keep from helping him.

There were so many dirty things done to make it look like he was faking his disability and/or to cover it up. We fought literally for three years until I was so fed up, and I literally almost memorized state and federal education laws. At the time, it was really hard to find a lawyer in Delaware for special education. I finally filed a state complaint, and the response was outrageous. If you were to read the state DOE response online, you would think that they were right not to rule in our favor. However, the report is nowhere near accurate.

After he was finally given a (ridiculously poor) 504 plan, he was to have OT for written expression weekly. Unfortunately, he did not receive one session for months. I finally filed an Office of Civil Rights complaint regarding the lack of services, ignoring their own and the school’s evaluation, falsifying records, etc. If you do any reading on OCR complaints, you will find that they rarely find in favor of the child. We won hands down, and the school was required to sign a contract with OCR. The 4 page contract required the charter school to obtain training on IEPs/504 plans, compensatory education for my son, and many other things. OCR, which is a federal entity, was serious and made several follow ups.

During the investigation by OCR, which took several months, we again tried to get an IEP for our son. The school finally hired a speech therapist to evaluate him, and even despite her recommendation for an IEP, the ED (who governed the IEP team) refused to do so. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when my son did extremely well on the DSTP, and the ED said “see he doesn’t need an IEP.” When we got home, we asked our son about the DSTP, and that we were proud of him but puzzled on how he did so well. He said, “What???? Who wrote what???” He told me that a special education teacher took him to his office, asked him a few questions, but he could not see what he was writing.

There is nothing wrong with my son’s hands, and no one should have been writing anything for him. We called the state DOE, made an appointment to take him to look at the actual test, and after reading it, he said “I did not say these things.” There were no accommodations to use a scribe, and the state was not even informed that he had one for the test. To be clear, even if a scribe is necessary, they are only to write word for word what the student says. They cannot even add punctuation without the child saying to do so. Of course, we were completely fed up.

The DOE initiated an investigation, which we followed up with a written request for one. The state DOE interviewed everyone involved including our son in our presence. The final report was that the teacher had cheated, and guess what, he did not lose his job. We were told that it was a personnel issue, and none of our business. We do not know why to this day that we did not go to the News Journal.

By the way, my son became so ill from stress that he was on homebound from December 2008 until late September 2009. The ED was still arrogant, and our fight went on for several more months. We filed for a due process hearing, and won in a resolution meeting with a settlement. My son’s senior year was his best year in his entire schooling, and with special education his writing grew from a kindergarten level to a 6th grade level. We used compensatory education to get him individual help, and he is doing well in college. We also got a true IEE, and we learned even more about his needs and disabilities. There were so many dirty things done at that charter school, but it would take me days to tell them all.

What prompted you to become an advocate?

I hate to see a child suffer. I hate it when an adult knows a child needs help, and continues to berate them for their disability. It took me a long time to learn what I know, and how to be smarter than the school so that the child can get the help they need. I believe that by helping another family through this horrible maze, it makes my son’s difficulties seem (a little) worth it. I have helped children all over the state (including PA & NJ) in numerous school districts and in all three counties in Delaware. It brings great joy and healing to see another child helped.

How does advocacy work? Do you need a license?

You do not need a license. You do need to know special education laws, but you have to be careful not to practice the law.

What are some of the most common problems you come across?

Parents don’t understand that they must put their request in writing if they want their child evaluated. They do not know how to read the school’s evaluation, they do not know their procedural safeguard. They don’t know it’s imperative to record all IEP meetings because they trust the IEP team. Children are given accommodations to help the teachers not the child. IEPs are written poorly. The child does not progress and parents don’t know how to monitor progress. Children are denied IEPs. Children’s disabilities are sometimes accommodated but rarely remediated, etc. etc.

It sounds like there are many situations where a child is denied an IEP based on intelligence. Would you find that to be accurate?

Absolutely. It isn’t always an easy task. In my son’s case, he was technically gifted so how could he need an IEP according to the school. This is old school thinking, and it clearly has no place in IDEA.

What is a due process hearing like? A mediation?

Mediation is supposed to be less confrontational with less people than a full IEP team. Also, you request Mediation without filing for Due Process. During Mediation, there is generally a mediator from the University of Delaware that leads the meeting. Any decisions made in mediation are legally binding, but the discussions held in Mediation are not.

Also, I would never agree to mediation AFTER filing for a due process hearing especially if you have hired a lawyer. If the issues are settled in Mediation, you cannot usually get lawyer fees. Generally after filing for due process, the school should offer a resolution meeting. If the issues are settled there, you can ask for legal fees to be paid. I have not had to go to a full due process in Delaware. The two cases I filed were one for my son and one for my daughter and both settled in Resolution. I have had many parents file for due process in Delaware, but all have been extremely strong cases so the school settled in Resolution. The cases settled in Resolution do not get recorded so you will never hear how often this occurs. I have had parents go through and win due process in Pennsylvania. I will say that it is extremely stressful, takes hours and hours of preparation, and you really, really need a lawyer.

Everyone talks about IEPs, but a lot of people don’t know about 504 plans. Have you ever advocated for someone on a 504 plan?

I have advocated for children with 504 plans. It is rare that I think a 504 plan is sufficient. If the child has medical conditions that affect his education, but has no educational or behavioral needs, then and only then might a 504 plan be sufficient.

Many people in Delaware believe charter schools have the most special education issues. Do you believe charter schools have more problems with special education than regular public schools?

Yes, but regular public schools can be just as bad. The cost is high to educate a child with a disability, but they deserve a Free Appropriate Education (FAPE). I have found that those leading and working in charter schools have very little knowledge about special education laws. However, make no mistake that a child with a disability has the same protections and rights as any child does in any other public school.

What do you think of special education in Delaware?

Honestly, we do a pretty good job with early childhood (before entrance into the school system) interventions. However, we absolutely stink once a child gets older.

Do you think schools in Delaware are accurately performing their Child Find duties?

They do a pretty good job with early childhood Child Find, but once a child is in elementary school the identification goes down. They are required to assess in all areas of suspected disability, and you will mainly find the status quo evaluation only has an IQ test and a basic achievement test. Tests only measure what they are designed to do. For example, the most common intelligence test is the WISC, which is based mostly on language. If a child has an expressive language disorder, you could get a very false low score. I have found this to be true on many occasions. It is terrible to be told your child has a low IQ, when in fact they may not. As another example, dyslexia is rarely picked up by these standard achievement tests. There are many, many tests that are rarely used by schools that should be.

What do you think of the report that came out this week regarding Delaware needing Federal intervention for special education?

It’s about time!!

How do you feel about standarized testing and Common Core in Delaware? Do you think all parents of special needs children should have the option of opting out of standardized testing?

Common Core: I can only imagine the number of children struggling with it. I am sure we will never know. As far as standardized testing, well I am on the fence about that one. It can alert parents that a child has a disability and it can also help monitor their progress. I do believe parents should have the choice, but I fear parents will make uneducated choices. If you want your child to succeed in college, they will have to take tests.

What is the one thing you could do over if you had the chance?

I wish that I had learned how to help my son a lot sooner than I did. However, let me be clear, it is never the parent’s responsibility. According to case law and the IDEA, the child find responsibility is 100% on the schools. I still wish I could have helped my kids a lot sooner. I would also have filed my OCR complaint and my due process complaint a whole lot sooner than we did. We wanted them to just do the right thing and help our son. We didn’t want the fight, but we certainly were not going to give up. There are many days I wish I had gone to the News Journal, but our intent was to help our son, not ruin the school. We had a horrible IEP team, but we still believed in the school. There were some good things about the school.

If you hadn’t intervened with the school, where do you think your children would be now?

There is no doubt in my mind that neither of my children would be doing as well as they are in college. I believe they are both on their way to independence. I sincerely doubt my son or my daughter would have ever made of $8 an hour if they were not helped. I also think that both of them would be seriously depressed and their self esteems in the toilet. We have done a lot of emotional repairing and even counseling to help them get over the school trauma.

How are your children now?

See above. 🙂

I want to thank Kathy for her courage in telling her children’s story, as well as many useful tips for Delaware parents. As I have said all along, never walk into an IEP meeting without an advocate, take notes, and save all emails from any school the moment you walk into the door the very first day.

If you are a parent in need of an advocate, please contact Kathy Willis at advocating4kids@yahoo.com