Delaware DOE Releases Detailed School Assault Report

Last year, the Delaware 148th  General Assembly passed Senate Bill 207 with House Amendment #1.  The amendment required the Delaware Department of Education to compile a more detailed report on student on student assaults that resulted in a misdemeanor charge.  The DOE finished that report yesterday for the 2016-2017 school year.  Some of these are very vicious fights.

SECRETARY OF EDUCATION DR. SUSAN BUNTING COVER LETTER

SENATE BILL 207 w/HOUSE AMENDMENT #1 FINAL REPORT

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.

Incident At Newark Charter School Leads To Student Sit-In And Many Questions…

I had an email forwarded to me this evening concerning an incident at Newark Charter School earlier this week.  While checking to see if something happened, I found the News Journal already covered this.  But what the News Journal didn’t publish was the email Newark Charter School’s Greg Meece sent to the parents about the altercation between a teacher and a student.  You can see that below.  But I have several dozen questions about this incident which didn’t even come up in the article.  While I respect the fact that Meece can’t talk about the incident because it involves an employee, the comments on the News Journal article spin many different tales…

He said the incident was in a classroom earlier this week and involved a female high school student and teacher in a physical altercation over a cell phone.  He added the cell phone did not belong to the student.  Meece said neither was at school Friday, but no formal disciplinary action has been taken at this time.

Excuse me?  A teacher has a physical altercation with a student and NO arrest was made?  Seriously?  Since when can a teacher have ANY type of physical altercation with a student?  Has the student and teacher been out of school all week?  Where is the due process for the student and the teacher if NO formal disciplinary action has been taken at this time?  Was “informal” disciplinary action taken?

This is the definition of a physical altercation, with certain words bolded for emphasis:

A physical altercation is defined as being an argument, dispute or altercation that involves force or physical aggression. Physical altercations differ from verbal altercations because physical contact is involved. These types of disputes are sometimes referred to as fights and may legally qualify as battery.

ncsincident

A peaceful gathering?  Maybe for the students, but according to this commenter on Facebook, the school wasn’t too happy about it…

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That is a very different yarn than the one spun by Greg Meece in his email to the parents and the News Journal:

“The principal of our building spoke to the students and thanked them for their voices and being heard,” Meece said.

What happens at Newark Charter Schools stays at Newark Charter School… until a student and a teacher have a physical altercation that is.  I don’t know why Newark Charter School treats itself like it is an isolated school cut off from the rest of the state.  How much goes on there that the public has no clue about?  If someone didn’t tip off the News Journal or myself on this, who would have known?  But we see teachers getting arrested in Delaware.  For more egregious things than this, but it happens.  Perhaps the teacher was defending herself.  But according to the above commenter, it was all a lie.  If there was any physical force involved, were the police notified?  The Senate Bill which minimizes when the police are called, Senate Bill 207, passed in the Delaware General Assembly this year, but it was very specific in its language to specify “between students”.  It did not mention staff members.  Which means Newark Charter School, if they did not notify the police, may have broken the law.  Whether it was a student or a teacher, if the matter became physical, they are legally obligated to do so.  Why didn’t the News Journal question that aspect of the story?

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Scandals?  Sweeping things under the rug?  I thought NCS was this model of good behavior and nothing happened there…

It is hard to believe this particular commenter in one aspect.  If this happened Monday, there is no possible way the parents could have sued the teacher in four days.  They may have talked to an attorney, but nothing moves that fast.  But they are absolutely right that students should have a voice.  The threats coming out of the administration when students were having a peaceful sit-in could have been treated with more respect if the above commenter’s comments are true.

What does Newark Charter School’s code of conduct say about this kind of incident?  It doesn’t reference this specific type of situation, but it does say this:

Referral to Police Agency is required for students who intentionally and offensively touch a staff member who is attempting to break up a fight or who is attempting to keep a student from injuring him/herself or others.  Recommendation for expulsion may be considered.

But they do reference House Bill 322, which the Delaware General Assembly passed in 1997:

In addition to any action taken by school officials, the school will comply with the notification requirements of H.B. 322 which includes notification of police.

This was in a section that talked about fighting.  I hate to keep beating on the same drum, but if this was an incident that was so minor, why would Meece refer to it as a “physical altercation” which has a very definitive legal meaning?

Are parents allowed to discuss this incident?  On the closed to members only NCS Parents Facebook page, it was a huge topic of discussion this week until the moderator deleted all the comments about it to protect the identity of the student and the teacher.  Even though all the parents already knew about it.  This was reported to me by a few parents of students who belong to that page.

Newark Charter School needs to be more open and honest with parents about situations, instead of putting on an “everything’s fine” face with the News Journal.  There was a lot Meece could have talked about with this article, but I’ve always been told Meece is a very smart man and chooses his words very carefully.  But no public school receiving taxpayer dollars should think they can isolate themselves from transparency.  They aren’t North Korea.

I’ve heard of many teachers at NCS getting fired with no form of due process whatsoever.  Delaware charter schools do not have teacher unions which, in this case, would have given the teacher protection if they were fired over this.  But we will most likely never know because of the isolationist mindset coming from this school…

Gang Issues At Dover High School Leads To Capital Board Approving Use Of Armed Constables

Last night, with a vote of 5-0, the Capital School Board voted to hire three armed constables at Dover High School.  Using a model currently in use by Indian River School District, the board discussed the issue with members of the community as well  as high school and district staff.  All supported the measure with one exception: the Senior Class President.  The pool of applicants would come from the Delaware State Police.  Because of insurance and pension issues, the pool was limited.  All were in agreement that hiring out-of-state would not be a wise decision.

One of the staff from the high school gave public comment indicating the current non-armed security guard company they utilize is highly ineffective and said it is like “throwing $40.000 off the roof”.  He cited the bomb threat incident a few months ago that led to a student’s arrest.  But he also indicated there was a huge fight on the football field as students were already trying to deal with the bomb threat.  He indicated there are gangs at Dover High School.  He said they are a small group of students who cause a lot of the problems.

The Senior Class President said many students were concerned with going from unarmed to armed persons in the school.  He felt like it was a drastic leap to go from one situation to what he felt was extreme.  He urged the board to find some middle ground.  Many students, he stated, felt it wasn’t fair to have this in their school when they weren’t the ones causing the problems.

In an attempt to allay the class president’s fears concerning the presence of armed constables at the high school, board member Ralph Taylor, also a retired Dover Police Officer of 20 years, said a gun is a very last resort.  He said the last thing an officer wants to do is use a gun, but it could mean a matter of many lives in a bad situation.  Board member Sean Christiansen said he reached out to different stakeholders in the Indian River School District including their own constables, parents, teachers, and students to get their thoughts on the matter.  All felt it improved school climate and led students to a feeling of safety within the district.  Dover High School Principal Courtney Voshell had a survey where parents could rate how safe they felt their children were at Dover H.S. and over 93% felt the school was not safe the way the current safety program was set up.

The school will also retain their School Resource Officer from the Dover Police and the constables will not have arrest authority.  They will be used to diffuse situations, but as it was explained, they will not punish students if they don’t have a bathroom pass.  The contract will cost the district an additional $75,000 out of their budget which will be used from carryover funds from fiscal year 2016.  Going forward, this would be a permanent part of the district budget.  The constables will be employees of the district.  They will receive professional development on all areas of school safety.  The details are not flush yet, but there was discussion if the training would come from the current Indian River Constables or the Dover Police Department.

I asked the board how the recently passed Senate Bill 207, which would not mandate schools to call the police every time a physical assault occurs unless it is considered to be a crime, could affect this decision from a financial perspective.  The bill, not yet signed by Delaware Governor Jack Markell, would give schools and parents discretion to contact law enforcement in those events.  Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton said the current school resource officer currently deals with crimes in the school so it would not change things.  Certain school crimes such as drugs or weapons, would still result in an arrest of a student.  Shelton said another bill (the restorative justice bill) didn’t pass but if it does in the future it would give the district additional funding to deal with school climate issues.   I also asked if the constables would receive special education training for students with disabilities.  Shelton said they would, but not on an individual basis.

The board was so impressed with the Senior Class President, board member John Martin invited him back up to the podium to discuss student concerns in greater detail.  Board member Christiansen invited him to come to every single board meeting.  It was also conveyed they wanted him to be a part of the hiring committee for the constables and Christiansen told Voshell he expected him to be excused from class those days.  Voshell jokingly answered that would be a summer school excuse which drew laughter from the audience.

The special board meeting, held just for the purpose of this decision, also had another activity.  Elected board member Dr. Chanda Jackson was sworn in by board President Matthew Lindell.

While I wrote some very negative things about the district almost half an hour prior to this board meeting yesterday, most of which concerned their Strategic Plan and joining the BRINC Consortium, I felt this board meeting was a very honest and open discussion about a very serious issue.  The district was honest about the issues happening at Dover High and didn’t try to whitewash the gang activity.  After the meeting, I happened to be speaking to a board member from another district that deals with similar issues as Dover H.S. but they said their district would never openly talk about these kinds of issues in their schools.  We both agreed that issues can’t be dealt with until they are acknowledged.  So I salute the Capital School District and Board for tackling this decision.

 

Will The WEIC Redistricting Plan Die In The House Education Committee Next Week?

That was quick!  In the same day the WEIC redistricting plan turns into pending legislation, the bill is also placed on the House Education Committee agenda for next week!  I’m not sure what this fast-track means.  But we are well into May and the General Assembly finishes up on June 30th.  But there are some other potentially controversial bills on the agenda as well!

House Joint Resolution #12, the now famous Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting bill introduced today, turns all the WEAC and WEIC recommendations into a bill.  The WEIC did what they had to do, the State Board of Education finally passed it in March, now it is the General Assembly’s turn.  This is where this bill could either move forward or actually die in committee.  While you can’t go by who the sponsors are on a bill, it is a good sign of who will definitely say yes when it comes up for a vote.  But with this bill being so Wilmington and New Castle County specific, it would stand to assume that those who are legislators up there and support the redistricting would sponsor the bill.  The House Education Committee has 14 members.  The following members are sponsors on the bill: Jaques, Bentz, Bolden, Lynn, Osienski, and Potter.  Red Clay legislators Kim Williams (Democrat), Joseph Miro (Republican) and Michael Ramone (Republican), who also serve on the committee, are not sponsors on the bill.  There are no House Republican sponsors whatsoever on the bill.  Which leads me to believe (and this is only speculation on my part) none of them will support this.  Which also takes Dukes, Hensley, and Kenton off the yes list.  That leaves two other Democrats on the House Education Committee who aren’t sponsors on the bill but also come from the Wilmington area: Sean Matthews and Deb Heffernan.  Both of them did not vote on Senate Bill 122 when it had the full House vote last June, along with Mike Ramone.  So this bill could die in committee with 6 yes and 8 no. Specifically, the bill would be tabled.

Once again, this is merely speculation on my part and I have not heard anything from anyone on this.  I imagine Kim Williams could be swayed if House Bill 30 were also given equal merit and taken out of the appropriations committee.  But it would still face a full House vote.  If it passed then, it would go to the Senate Education Committee, and if released from there it would be up for a full Senate vote.  That is a lot of variables.  If I that were my bargaining chip, I wouldn’t cash it in until House Bill 30 is signed by the Governor!  But it still needs a majority vote.

To get out of the House Education Committee, House rules state:

Bills and resolutions shall be reported out of committee by a majority of the committee or subcommittee by signing the backer. A bill or resolution may be tabled in any committee or subcommittee by a majority vote of the full committee or subcommittee.

This is assuming everyone attends the committee meeting as well.  I could picture some members who don’t want to be put in a position of killing the WEIC bill to just not show up!  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But this is also an election year.  If the majority of the constituents in your district don’t support WEIC and the bill winds up passing, an absent from committee could potentially change an election if it ticks off enough voters.  This chess game could get a checkmate next week!

But there are other bills on the agenda as well:

A somewhat odd school choice bill would give priority to students who have certain medical conditions.  House Bill 229 states “if a parent, relative, guardian or caregiver can demonstrate that they would be able to respond quicker to an emergency at the selected school, the student will receive a priority consideration.”  This one could open a big old can of worms!

The Restorative Justice Senate Bill 207 which seeks to reduce suspensions unless it is for fighting, drug offenses are other such serious infractions has a lot of support.  The bill would also put restorative justice techniques in Delaware schools.  But with the recent Howard High School tragedy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an amendment or two tacked on this one!

House Bill 355, which was just filed on Tuesday, would make computer science a mandatory course in high school and the credit would go towards the math or science graduation requirements.  When I put this up the other day, many folks on Facebook were shocked this wasn’t already a requirement.  I expect this will get a quick release without a lot of discussion.

If I know the WEIC crowd, this will be a packed House (literally) next week.  Especially after this article comes out!  As I said yesterday, get there early!

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn Talks About School Fights, Bullying, and Senate Bill 207

It must be Matt Denn day here at Exceptional Delaware!  In any event, Delaware Attorney General appeared on Comcast Newsmakers with Jill Horner on March 21st to talk about Senate Bill 207.  This legislation would make it so schools do not have to call the police every time there is a fight in a Delaware public school.  The schools still could, but they would have discretion based on the circumstances and the potential of serious injury.  As well, SB207 would mandate schools disclose the contact information for the Ombudsman at the DOJ who deals with school bullying issues to parents.