Jason Casper Urges Calm Ahead Of Red Clay Board Meeting Tonight… Will Both Sides Listen?

Over the past couple of weeks, Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education member Jason Casper has been a lightning rod of controversy over Facebook posts supporting gun rights.  After the anti-gun group Moms Demand Action and others demanded Casper not run for President of the Red Clay board, he acquiesced and said he would not accept a nomination should it come up at their board meeting tonight.  But some groups, led by former Congressional candidate Kerri Harris, want Casper to resign from the board.  Meanwhile, the pro gun rights crowd plans to attend the meeting tonight to support Casper.  To that affect, Casper issued a statement on Facebook tonight urging both sides to let the Red Clay Board get back to issues about education.  It will also be his statement prior to public comment at the meeting tonight.  For my own personal thoughts on this, you can read my private Facebook page if I’m friends with you.  For the record, I hate what was done to Jason Casper.

Tonight, before I left for this meeting, I wanted to post a statement on Facebook. You might find that ironic, since it was a handful of Facebook posts that got me into this situation in the first place; but I wanted there to be a record of my words available after I spoke to you this evening.

So here goes:

I stepped forward to serve on this Board only after waiting to see if someone more qualified, someone whose leadership I would trust, would do so. When that didn’t happen, I thought, “I’m a teacher, and since Kenny Rivera left that perspective has been absent.” I’ve worked with students from the inner city, and that’s key to many of the kinds of challenges Red Clay is facing. I believe that we solve problems and educate kids not when we engage in ideological crusades, but when we sit down and do the thoughtful, detailed planning and support for our teachers, administrators, staff AND parents in the hard, day-to-day work of implementing those ideas.

No child has ever earned better math grades as the result of a fiery speech at a School Board meeting, or a cleverly worded meme on Facebook, which I think we all forget from time to time.

I know that I’m guilty of that.

As a leader, whether as a potential School Board President, or just as a Board member, I have been, and should have been held to a higher standard. I’m a conservative Catholic who believes in 2nd Amendment rights, and my posts did not do anything positive for those identities or for my district.

I should have known better. I should have known that in today’s world attempts at humor are always politically dangerous, and that I was setting a poor example for the kids I love.

So I am sorry for that, I apologize unequivocally, first and foremost to them. I don’t believe people who say, “For those whom I might have offended,” so I won’t say that.

It was inappropriate, and it has cost my family more dearly than you can imagine.

Yet, at the same time, this incident has told me more about the problems that keep us from coming together for our kids than I have otherwise learned in the past two decades.

As I look out into the audience tonight, I see the faces of those who have come here to protest against me as well as the faces of those who’ve turned out to support me.

And, you know what?

I don’t recognize most of you. I haven’t seen you at the committees that meet to pick next year’s elementary math textbooks, or at meetings brainstorming about how to better support our special needs population, or at public Board workshops. Even more to the point, the statistics—and just the fact that I’m sitting up here—tell me that the overwhelming majority of you do not turn out to vote in Red Clay School Board elections.

Yet people who have never met me, never spoken to me, and never stepped up to the plate here in the district feel empowered by my errors to condemn me as wanting to bring “racism, violence, and hate” into our schools. One person even posted half gleefully the rumor that I had been so struck down by their attacks that I visited the Emergency Room last week and died.

I tried reaching out to some of my most vocal critics. I wrote an extended response to one, laying out in full my thought processes, especially around the post I’d written about the student walk-out. She did not deign to reply, and after reading my words moved from calling for me not to run for President to inciting her followers to show up tonight to demand my resignation.

I saw public officials and want-to-be politicians jump on the bandwagon like sharks smelling blood in the water. I remember thinking that when I saw this happen last year to a very good man, and a very skilled teacher, with whom I share literally nothing in common in terms of political viewpoints, “Wow, now I know what a feeding frenzy looks like.”

Well, now I know what a feeding frenzy feels like.

I’d love to know if those of you who were convinced that you would come here tonight to see a rabid, white-robed fanatic carrying an AK-47 are wondering just what happened. All you got was an old driver education teacher and former funeral professional, who still digs graves from time to time.

As for my supporters tonight, aside from thanking you, I’d like to ask two favors.

The first is that if you signed up to speak, please don’t. Your presence, and the kind words you’ve offered to me and to my wife, Ami, over the past week have been a Godsend in a dark time, but tonight your presence is sufficient.

We don’t need to ratchet up the war of words and prove—unfortunately not for the first time—that this Board is more divided than it should be, and that in today’s rough world of politics good people of differing opinions find it more productive to trade insults than ideas.

The second thing I would ask you, from the Constitutional Republicans to Delaware Gun Rights, from Moms Demand Action to Sandy Hook Promise, is to remember that this district is not about your battles over the status of gun rights or free speech, but about the necessity of doing our very best for the children about to walk back into Warner, Heritage, Highlands, Linden Hill, Stanton, Richardson Park, Skyline, Dickinson, Cab, Conrad and all of our other schools.

So I’d ask you tonight, if you live in the district, to stop and find out how to sign up for a committee, or a working group, or your building’s PTA instead of letting this be your single visit to the process.

I will be working with you, if you do that, because I’m not going anywhere.

I will not be resigning my position on this Board.

I considered it, I really did. Would staying make me into the target of prolonged controversy that materially interfered with my ability to advance education? Would the cost of being publicly called—for the first time in my life—a violent, racist hate monger be too high a price for my family to bear?

But then I recalled that the teaching of my faith is that we are all, necessarily, flawed servants, but that it is our calling to emphasize the service and not use the flaws as an excuse.

So I will still be here. I pledge that I will be addressing my own flaws while working as tirelessly as possible for the children and families we are called to serve.

If you are moved to speak against me tonight, I will listen. Your passion is important, and your comments may move us further toward the district’s goals even when they are personally uncomfortable to me. More to the point, I believe in your right to speak and to criticize all public officials for any reason, and I will practice that belief.

In the next couple of weeks, we will have close to 17 THOUSAND students coming back to our schools, as well as hundreds of staff members from custodial staff and bus drivers, to teachers, counselors and administrators; all getting prepared for our Red Clay kids. We have a new superintendent that we need to support so that he can make 2019-2020 the best school year possible. We are ALL here for the kids.

Thank you, Madam President, for this opportunity to speak my piece.

Now let’s get back to work!

 

Will The Delaware House Repeal The Estate Tax Today? And Which State Rep Had A “Folder” Incident Yesterday?

House Bill 16 will get a vote today.  This bill would repeal the estate tax in Delaware.  State Rep. John Kowalko issued the following statement last evening concerning this bill:

Today 5/18/17, a bill to repeal the “estate tax”, has been placed on the House Agenda by Speaker Schwartzkopf. It will require a suspension of rules due to notification inadequacies but more importantly it will guarantee less revenue for the state and amounts to a giveaway to the Republicans and the wealthy. This tax garnered $9.3 million in revenue in 2016 and to date there have been no suggestions from leadership of either party or the JFC as to how that revenue loss will be replaced. I have asked this question of all of my Democratic colleagues and have not received one suggestion. This bill should not receive one Democrat vote but it will as deals have been cut to the detriment of Delaware’s taxpayers to ensure passage. This is irresponsible and abhorrent behavior that contradicts true Democratic party principles and ideals and all Democrat legislators should reject this or be held accountable. -Representative John Kowalko
I fully expect Kowalko to make his voice heard when he opposes this bill.  I’m not sure what the notification inadequacies are.  The bill came out of committee on 5/3/17 and is on the ready list.  Perhaps it is the timing of when it was put on the ready list.
Delaware Liberal is reporting the deals are flying left and right down in Dover.  This isn’t a new phenomenon.  It happens ALL the time.  It is how politics works (or doesn’t work in many cases, but I digress).  Del Lib believes Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf is letting this bill up for a vote if the House Republicans will at least do a roll call on House Bill 175, which would raise corporate taxes.  Expect more of this in the next 43 days folks!  And watch for the sneaky-snake charter lobbyists getting their hooks into the Joint Finance Committee and the Bond Committee.
Speaking of Legislative Hall, State Rep. Mike Ramone smacked me in the face with a folder yesterday!  I was at the House Education Committee meeting talking with one of the Superintendents.  Ramone came over and the Super asked him an education question.  Ramone didn’t know the answer so he asked me.  I told him “I’m just a blogger, find out for yourself!”  Ramone took his House Education Committee folder and smacked me in the face with it.  It didn’t hurt.  He laughed.  I told him I was going to blog about it and I am a man of my word!  Just a playful moment down in Dover folks, no scandal here.  He usually gives me a lollipop, not a physical assault!
Full details of House Bill 16 can be found here.

Wahl v. Brandywine Case Settles! Justice For Joseph & An End To Zero Tolerance In Brandywine!

Over two years later, the Wahl family and Brandywine have settled on a matter involving zero tolerance and due process.  As reported by Amy Cherry with WDEL this morning, Patrick Wahl, father of Joseph Wahl, has reached an agreement with the Brandywine School District.  In January of 2015, Joseph Wahl was suspended for bringing “sharp objects” to school.  While not intentional, the discovery of the objects were ripe with controversy.  Patrick Wahl began a one-man crusade to change the district’s zero tolerance policy.

I’ve been following this story for years now and I am delighted Wahl and Brandywine were able to work this out.  This morning, Patrick Wahl released the following statement:

FINALLY! JUSTICE FOR JOSEPH — AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!

I’m very happy to report that the Brandywine School District and my family have settled our differences. I would like to thank the Brandywine School District for all of the work they’ve done to improve policies and to prevent the situation that occurred with my family from ever happening again. At their heart, these changes recognize that “exclusionary discipline” — out-of-school suspensions and expulsions which deny children their property right to a free education — must not be doled out cavalierly, and should be treated with all the seriousness and due process that denying this property right merits.

I said that Joseph’s suspension would not stand. It fell. I said that policies would be changed. They have been. And I said that Delaware’s “Zero Tolerance” laws which tie the hands of school administrators must go. They’re next.

As a result of Joseph’s case, the District has already created and implemented a new, mandatory training program for administrators regarding student rights, due process, what reasonable suspicion is and what it isn’t, how to conduct searches properly, and what the grievance processes are should a student or parent feel treated unfairly. They have fixed their Defiance Policy, clarifying that students can refuse certain requests without fear of punishment. Students will know why they are being searched and absent an immediate threat, students will be allowed to await their parent before any individualized search of their person or personal possessions.

Whenever a student is suspended from school, he or she will be given a form that is now truly informative, even including the contact information for any police officer who has been notified. No parent need lay awake ever again worrying that his child is under criminal investigation, and without any way to find out the status of that investigation. Steps to appeal the suspension are now spelled out on this very form, as is notification of any right to stay in school during an appeal process.

Even more importantly, the District will issue a position statement opposing “Zero Tolerance” laws and calling for our legislators to give our school administrators the ability to address disciplinary issues on a case by case basis. The District vows to lobby for this discretion. Schools breaking their silence on this issue is exactly what’s needed to get our legislators to reform bad law.

Remember when the Christina School District expelled the third-grader whose grandmother had sent a birthday cake and a knife with which to cut it to the school? The teacher used the knife, then reported the girl to the administration for having brought a dangerous weapon to the school. This mind-boggling case led to Delaware amending a law and giving school districts the ability to consider the circumstances when making expulsion decisions. That same law must now be amended once more, this time to include suspension decisions. It is a very simple change to make.

Out-of-school suspensions for first-time, unintentional offenses are especially harmful to the marginal, at-risk student. How many disciplinary issues would be better handled by an in-school suspension, where the offender can be assigned educational tasks like writing an essay about his behavior, performing some service around the school, and perhaps apologizing in front of an assembly? If there is no investigation as to who started a fight, are we punishing the victim and turning a blind eye to bullying?

Case by case does not mean weak! On the contrary, when a punishment does not fit the offense, students learn not about justice but about injustice. Students do not turn in found contraband, because they fear, correctly, that doing so will get them punished. They learn to subvert rules and policies and to have no respect for authority.

How long will Delaware schools be forced to treat plastic knives the same way they treat guns? How long are we going to keep pretending that the Advil a student inadvertently brings to school might as well have been cocaine? What happens when a student from a broken home, already feeling that school may not be the place for him, is told he is not welcome on school grounds or in school activities for a week? How does further alienating him from the school advance his education or that of others? It’s time we end the criminalization of childish mistakes. Zero tolerance policies, too, will fall.

Thank you very much to all of you for your support. Community involvement is essential if our schools are to thrive.

Oh, and one more thing.

I’m 51 years old and starting law school at Widener in the fall!

Hey, Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78 years old!

#BSDisGreatandGettingBetter

Wahl was not alone in issuing a statement.  The district released the following language concerning the issue:

The District appreciates Joseph Wahl raising awareness of potential imperfections in the Defiance, Search and Seizure, and Due Process provisions in our Student Code of Conduct. While we admit no liability, we have used Joseph’s situation as a learning opportunity and have made substantive changes to the District’s policies, procedures, and practices including changes to our Student Code of Conduct. We have also implemented safeguards to ensure teachers, administrators, and other school employees are properly trained regarding the students’ rights. These revised provisions are available on the District’s Facebook page, website and will be printed in the next printed version of the Student Code of Conduct. Faculty and staff will be receiving training on these revised procedures.”

It looks like Brandywine’s zero tolerance policy will become a thing of the past.  All Delaware school districts should get rid of these obscene policies.  Our General Assembly should do whatever it takes to make them extinct as well.  While no one wants a Columbine situation at our schools, there is such a thing as taking things too far.  Zero tolerance results in situations exactly like what Joseph Wahl went through.

Never underestimate the will and resolve of a parent when something doesn’t feel quite right.  Wahl fought the district, the Brandywine Board of Education, took it to the State Board of Education, had a FOIA complaint ruled in his son’s favor with the Delaware Department of Justice, and filed suit.  Some have said he didn’t have to do this, but look at the results.  He got the district to change a policy.  That is not an easy thing to do, especially when dealing with a discipline issue.  I salute Wahl for his perseverance.

If Wahl does become a lawyer, I can only imagine what opposing attorneys would go through in a courtroom if this case was any indication.

To follow the storyline of Wahl v. Brandywine, please go to the following links.  It looks like all of Wahl’s Youtube videos are no longer viewable.

brandywine-board-violated-foia-according-to-doj-legal-opinion-over-removal-of-student-discipline-record/

holodick-brandywine-name-in-lawsuit-as-father-seeks-justice-for-year-long-nightmare/

patrick-wahl-launches-youtube-video-called-why-im-suing-the-brandywine-school-district-its-not-for-my-kid-its-for-yours/

an-open-letter-to-brandywine-superintendent-dr-mark-holodick/

brandywine-threatens-8-million-in-cuts-if-referendum-doesnt-pass-40-teachers-at-risk-of-losing-jobs/

doc-holodick-gets-superintendent-of-the-year-patrick-wahl-gets-the-ed-parent-warrior-of-the-year-award/