Caesar Rodney District Staff & Admins Watched Disabled Child Get Beat Up And Did Nothing

I’ve heard from several sources that the fight in the cafeteria where a disabled student was pummeled could have been prevented had district staff or administration intervened.  These same sources revealed that district staff come over to the high school to eat in the very nice cafeteria.  On Tuesday, district staff were present during the fight, including Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald.  The reason no one tries to break up a fight?  Because they are not allowed to if they have not received restraint training.

It would be one thing if this were indeed a “rare” situation, as described by Fitzgerald in his announcement about the fight today.  But I’m hearing there have been several fights.  Another recent one had the same scenario- a girl gets beaten up, no one breaks it up, and the school calls the parent to tell them to pick their child up and she may need medical attention.  I’m sorry, but if the school or district refuses to get the training needed to properly break up a fight, then they should incur the medical expenses for a student when they fail to prevent it or act once it starts.

In terms of the beating the disabled child took, some have gone online suggesting the disabled child used the “n” word against the other student.  But Diane Eastburn, the child’s advocate, said there were allegations tossed around but the school found through their investigations those allegations were false.  Those comments appeared on the WDEL article that broke this story.  Many have asked why the student who beat the child wasn’t expelled.  Any school expulsion has to go through a school board.  A school may suspend a student until the school board convenes to vote on that action item, but the school cannot expel a student.  The student was arrested as per Fitzgerald’s statement today.

I have serious concerns with Fitzgerald putting in words that “The District will continue to work hard to insure the safety of our students.”  How is it working hard if staff and administration don’t have the means to break up a fight?  That cafeteria was filled with adults according to several sources.  But in the video not one of them came over to the scene in the 30 seconds the fight took place.  The high school does have a School Resource Officer, but the school cannot and should not rely on one person to break up a fight.  It is a logistical nightmare.  What comfort does this give to the parents of the beaten child?  If I were them, I would see that as a slap in the face.  Because their child needed medical attention while the adults watched.

This district has been in the spotlight this week, and not in a good way.  I’ve written about Caesar Rodney School District more this week than I have my entire time blogging.  And I’ve done this for well over three years now.  One source, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said “This isn’t anything new.  It is just boiling to the surface now.”  Once you let the genie out of the bottle…

Delaware’s legislators have to find a way to make discipline issues more uniform throughout the state.  They have to make sure there are proper methods for interventions before events like this erupt all over the news.  It was a year and a half ago that Amy Joyner Francis was brutally murdered in a high school bathroom.  We don’t need a repeat of that again.  Fights will happen but I can’t help but think this district and our state could be doing a hell of a lot more to prevent them or act when they do.

In a week where Caesar Rodney has been inundated with bad news, from the custodian at Charlton sending explicit texts to a minor, to the Rider Mascot racial slur, and this fight, it is clear this district needs to think very carefully about what kind of message they are sending to parents.  Their Board of Education needs to take a very clear look at these situations and not just brush them off.  They need to come up with strategies and policies to tackle this in the best interests of students.

Many parents are wondering what is happening to students.  Fights are getting more vicious.  Racial tensions are building up in our state.  But we have far too many adults in charge who seem oblivious to the realities on the ground.  People are very sensitive today and our schools and leaders have to recognize this.  They must come up with better ways to help students deal with our world.  We can no longer let local control dictate what happens with school climate.  We must have uniform policies, training, and resources in every single public school in this state.  Parents or guardians must also help their children understand and cope with these issues as well.  For those who say “it was like this when I was a kid”, maybe it was, but we have more resources and knowledge on how to deal with these situations now.  We can’t live in bubbles.  If we want to live in this world, we have to share it.  And that means accepting others differences and helping others.  The hate has to stop before it becomes an uncontrollable beast.

District Consolidation Task Force Bill Kicked Back To Delaware House, Bonini Amendment Takes Charters Back Out Again

House Concurrent Resolution passed the Delaware Senate a short time ago with amendment by Delaware Senator to take charter schools out of the district consolidation task force’s discussion.  A prior amendment in the House from State Rep. Earl Jaques included charter schools in the task force discussion.  Oddly enough, Senator Bonini’s amendment didn’t remove a representative from the Delaware Charter Schools Network from the task force.

Senator David Sokola said this bill did not have to be heard in committee but felt it was an important enough topic to have that voice.

Senator Bryan Townsend expressed hope that charters would be a part of the task force’s review.  He said the intent of the legislation is a coordinated school system.  He recognized Delaware’s unique education system and understood the ideological discussion of Senator Colin Bonini but still felt all Delaware public schools should be part of that system.

Senator Bonini’s amendment passed with 12 yes, 8 no, and 1 absent.  For the concurrent resolution, it passed with 17 yes, 3 no, and 1 absent.  I imagine it will come back to the House tonight.

Senator Townsend’s Senate Concurrent Resolution #39, requesting an advisory opinion from the Justices of the Delaware Supreme Court on the efficiency of Delaware’s public school system, was defeated in the Delaware Senate with 9 yes, 10 no, 1 not voting, and 1 absent.  House Bill #142, dealing with training for School Resource Officers in situations dealing with students with disabilities, passed the Senate with 20 yes and 1 no.  The Kim Williams sponsored bill goes to Governor Carney for signature.

Guest Post: Jennifer Cinelli-Miller On School Resource Officer Training

Yesterday, Delaware’s House Bill #142 was heard in the Senate Education Committee.  This bill deals with training for school resource officers in relation to students with disabilities.  This is a great bill!  It passed the House and is now on the Senate Ready List for a full Senate vote.  Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams worked extensively with Milford parent Jennifer Cinelli-Miller to get this bill going.  With Jennifer’s permission, I present her public comment to the Senate Education Committee:

Good afternoon Gentlemen,

Thank you for allowing me to be here today to speak on behalf of this piece of legislation. My concern with officers being placed in our schools began in 2013, when the Milford School District, in response to the horrific events at Sandy Hook, hired School Resource Officers (SROs) for our elementary schools, including Morris Early Childhood Center. When I began my research, many issues surrounding the use of uniformed, armed officers at the elementary level became apparent.  Most of these issues concerned students with special needs.

The research also showed that SROs were not being provided with appropriate training in regards to behaviors, exhibited by children with special needs which are a manifestation of their disability. These behaviors can be viewed, by the untrained eye, as behaviors that reach a level that requires law enforcement intervention.  My biggest fear was that my daughter, whose Autism causes her to have very serious meltdowns, would be mistaken as a public safety risk and arrested, placed in handcuffs or worse could end up dead.

I took my research to then Lt. Gov. Matt Denn and R.L. Hughes – who was at Homeland Security at the time and was working with the school districts to identify improvements to security measures in their buildings. None of the recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security included adding officers. 

The very first year with SROs in the schools in Milford brought about an incident which was by all accounts the “Perfect Storm” and ended with a child being committed to Rockford Center; strictly because he has Autism. There is nothing in this situation that the officers did that was inappropriate. There was a major breakdown in communication on the school’s part which led the SROs to be called for assistance instead of educators.

I had the honor of meeting with Rep. Williams after this incident and we set out to try to ensure that, at least in Delaware, SROs would be trained with a basic knowledge and understanding of children with disabilities. The family impacted by this incident wanted to ensure that it would never happen to another child.

This legislation will provide SROs with training and a basic knowledge of how the behaviors they may see in the schools are a manifestation of children’s disabilities and should be addressed by the educators in the schools.

I want to thank the many of those statewide that have assisted with this process. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet and work with so many of our wonderful officers from the Delaware State Police (DSP) and it was a relief to hear that they had just as much concern about SROs being utilized in situations that were meant for educators. I would also like to thank Brian Moore from Red Clay’s Public Safety Department, the Delaware Department of Education (DOE), specifically the Exceptional Children Resources group. Wendy Strauss and Sybil White from the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens as well as Dafne Carnright from Autism Delaware and Bill Doolittle, a parent advocate who has been an instrumental part every step of the way.

So, after all of our hard work, I am here today to ask for your vote on this bill which has the support of DSP, the DOE and so many parents of children with disabilities.

Thank you,

Jennifer Cinelli-Miller, Parent Advocate

Milford, DE

Delaware School Safety Report Shows Severe Limitations In Our Schools For Controlling Violence

If we are to have a chance to reduce and reverse this type of behavior, it is necessary to begin early and to start in the home. Efforts must be made to reach out students and to provide them with positive new directions in elementary school. Several committee members pointed out that “middle school is too late.”

“If joining a gang is the only way to survive, the kids will join gangs,” one committee member said, adding, “A lot of teachers don’t know who gang members are. You, as a teacher, should know how to interact with kids and parents because kids and parents may not have the ability to interact with us.”

The committee discussed the possibility of cell phone bans in schools, but public schools in Delaware have not done so because parents want to be able to reach their children by phone.

These were just a few of the topics discussed in the Special Committee on Public Safety.

School safety.  Two words that mean so many things to so many people.  To some, it means making sure every single student and staff member is protected from violence.  To some it means reporting requirements.  Many think of Sandy Hook or Columbine.  Others think of a mounting problem that can never be corrected.

Earlier this year, in the wake of two very violent deaths in Wilmington, a group was formed by Senator Robert Marshall.  Marshall is the Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee.  He formed a group that met twice to discuss school safety issues with various topics introduced.  Out of these meetings, Senate Concurrent Resolution #83 formed a Special Committee on School Safety.  The final report was given to the President Pro Tempore of the Delaware Senate and Governor Markell yesterday.

The below report has a great deal of information.  It is very long but it is worth the read.  Take the time to read it.  Every single word.  Whether you are for or against School Resource Officers or Constables in Delaware schools, it is important to know what is happening out there.  It affects every single citizen of this state.  Issues in schools can explode outside of schools often, but issues outside of schools are brought into schools all the time.

The one thing I took out of this report is there are no easy answers.  Issues around funding and legality are some of the biggest obstacles to making schools safer.  Trauma plays a huge role in our high-needs schools.  Family issues outside of school are one of the biggest obstacles to safe schools.

There was one recommendation coming out of the final report that I didn’t see discussed anywhere in the meeting minutes.

Provide funding for the Delaware Department of Education to conduct a voluntary, statewide survey among students, parents, and teachers to get their thoughts on improving the learning environment and ways to make our schools safer.

It can’t be a report on education in Delaware without the Delaware Dept. of Education inserting something they want, which usually involves them getting more money.  One important thing to take note of in this report is that Delaware Senator David Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques were both listed as members of this committee but neither went to any of the meetings on it or bothered to assign a designee to attend in their absence.

The parts about Senate Bill 207, which I also issued severe problems with, were echoed by many in regards to future under-reporting of incidents in schools.  I thank God the House added an amendment to the bill that still requires mandatory reporting to the Delaware DOE.  But there is one line about Senate Bill 207 in the final report which will give any Delaware citizen severe anxiety.

Laid Off Christina Teachers Struggle To Find Jobs

According to an article by Larry Nagengast with Delaware Public Media, the budget woes of Christina are really hitting home for many Delaware educators.  The article states that the Christina School District laid off 78 teachers, 14 paraprofessionals and 7 secretaries after they failed to pass their 2nd referendum in May.  Christina rehired a little over a quarter of those positions back, and surrounding districts are hiring as well, but some are still out of a job and are looking.

The scariest part about the article is that the district is still $5 million over budget, and one of the things that could be cut is their contract with the Delaware State Police and their placement of School Resource Officers in Christina schools.  As a district that has some of the highest counts of bullying and fighting, this could make an already tense situation worse.  School councilor functions could also be cut, which would give some of these students very few resources to get certain kinds of help when they need it most.

I think it is tragic what is going on with Christina, and the DOE and Governor Markell have essentially abandoned them.  This is not how education should be in our state’s biggest city where schools need the most help, but I haven’t heard anyone from the state say “Let’s see what we can do.”  All I’ve heard is “Let’s get the Wilmington schools out of that district and they can fend for themselves.”

I know some of the teachers who were quoted in this article, and while I’m glad they found new employment whether in the district or out, my heart bleeds for the ones who are now unemployed due to events beyond their control.