A new group has formed in Delaware called The Coalition for Fairness & Equity In Our Schools. This group is looking for one thing in our schools, as per their Facebook page:
Diverse group advocating for statewide changes to discipline practices to eliminate suspensions for low-level offenses and adopt a restorative approach.
This group was convened by the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware to help eliminate the “school to prison” pipeline coming out of many of our schools in Delaware, specifically the Wilmington schools. You can read more about them here.
To this end, they have started a petition which can be found below, and I strongly encourage all to sign in support of this petition. As a special needs father, I have seen first-hand what disproportionate discipline can create, and so much of what these children are exhibiting are manifestations of their disabilities. This doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all, but it also doesn’t mean punish whenever you want, which leads to social stigma that is very damaging for so many students with disabilities. I have always promoted a simple mantra: work with the disabilities, not against them. When anyone tries to fight something that is natural, it becomes stressful for all involved. This can make a minor situation become infinitely worse. It isn’t just about social groups for students either. The adults have a HUGE responsibility in this as well.
I have seen multiple videos from other countries where students disabilities are celebrated, not hidden. The classes and staff are educated on them, and this creates a much more tolerable environment for all involved: the student with disabilities, their classmates, the teachers, the staff, the admins, and the entire school. Aside from all this, there are very specific laws regarding disproportionate punishments and manifestation determination. In Delaware, and also under IDEA and Section 504 law, if a student is suspended more than ten times during a school year, the IEP team or 504 team must convene to determine if a behavior was a result of the disability. A parent can also request this if they believe this to be true in a discipline situation.
What should result from this is the stakeholders involved get together, talk about the issues and behaviors, and the school psychologist should do a functional behavioral analysis. Based on the results of this, a behavior intervention plan should be established with all parties agreeing, not just the administrators of the school. And I would caution parents to be very careful about the wording of these BIPs as they are called. I highly recommend knowing your child’s disability to the best of your ability, and find out what is typical or atypical behaviors associated with the disability.
When all efforts have failed, and a parent feels their efforts for their child are not being met, that is the time to take further action. There are numerous things you can do, but one I do NOT recommend is taking that action through the Delaware Department of Education. Their best solution seems to be “mediate” which is good, but this can also stifle your rights for your child. Sometimes, as many special needs parents can attest to, you have to fight for your child. The DOE methods of resolution do not have the best odds of working to your child’s benefit. I’m sure they would disagree with me, but the bare fact that there have been NO due process hearings in Delaware for two years and a smattering of administrative complaints over a ten year period is testament to this fact. Their way just doesn’t work.
Furthermore, the number of special education lawsuits when parents reach their wits end (not to get rich quick, that is NOT what happens with these lawsuits) has skyrocketed in Delaware over the past few years. This is a more proven resolution method for far more parents than the DOE has ever helped over the past decade. In fact, many of the curriculums and specific IEPs the DOE wants (which are not part of approved federal IDEA law as brought before the U.S. Congress but resolutions and regulations tacked on by the US DOE with no Congressional approval), will wind up being more harmful to many students in the coming years as they are forced to adapt to national standards that are controversial at best, culminating in standardized assessments that on the surface purport to close the achievement gaps, but will in actuality further widen them. This will in turn bring in more “consultants” and “non-profit companies” who need to help these “failing” students. All the while, teachers who don’t have the proper resources and are dealing with very large classrooms will be evaluated based on these high-stakes assessments. This is why I don’t trust the DOE, and why any special needs parent should be very wary of them.
But back to this coalition, I am in full support of this group, and this is very needed in our state. I just wish I had known about it sooner! I would strongly encourage this group to take a very strong look at various disabilities and the neurobiological events that take place when so many of these “behaviors” occur, as well as the exponential increase of them when unneeded stress is placed on these students from the adults in the school.