So Glad I Caught Your Attention!

It looks like the Smyrna School District Board of Education has been reading my series on the story of J and their harsh zero tolerance discipline tactics.  It turns out they are having a “special” board meeting dedicated solely to student discipline issues.  This comes right on the heels of my series about J.  Hey, Patrik Williams, you should give Dr. Mark Holodick up in Brandywine a call about this kind of stuff.  He is VERY familiar with these kind of issues.  So much so his district is taking a very good look at their own zero tolerance policies.

I haven’t heard from Patrik Williams since he emailed me a couple of weeks ago and I responded to him.  I am still working on the series about J.  To be honest, I’m trying to get a transcription of the hearing with the State Board of Education.  Going back and forth with that office on that issue.  And with a holiday coming up…  But if I don’t get it, I will come out with the next part with what information I do have.

If I were a parent in the Smyrna School District who has dealt with what you feel may be harsh discipline tactics, I would definitely attend this meeting.  The meeting notice doesn’t specify if they will have public comment or not.  Who knows, maybe I will show up!

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Not A Good Day For Christina

In the “October Surprise” for the 2017 Delaware School Board Election season, Atnre Alleyne of DelawareCAN dropped a huge bomb all over Christina Board candidate Jeff Day’s campaign with less than a week before the election.  When a former News Journal reporter jumped in on the controversy, it fanned the flames… Continue reading “Not A Good Day For Christina”

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/

 

President Obama’s Office Releases Massive “Rethinking Discipline” Report For Schools

Today, the White House released a very long report on school discipline entitled “The Continuing Need to Rethink Discipline”.  The report has a plethora of recommendations for public schools in America.  I agree with most of them based on a cursory glance, but like many reports of this nature that I write about, it fails to recognize the fact that Common Core State Standards or other similar standards along with the high-stakes testing environment accompanying those standards are causing more problems than they are worth in our schools.  I will write more about this as I go through the report in the coming days.

The Every Student Succeeds Act addresses school discipline and how our schools carry out punishment for negative behaviors.  On Monday evening, the ESSA Discussion Group I am a member of in Delaware addressed this very issue.  As well, a Delaware newspaper is working on an extensive article about bullying in Delaware and how our schools respond to bullying reporting.

It remains unclear how the incoming Trump administration will view this report.

For now, please read the below report.

Dramatic Rise in Expulsions, Weapons, Fighting, Pornography, and Drug Use At Delaware Schools

The Delaware Dept. of Education released figures on School Conduct for the 2015-2016 school year.  In nearly every category there was an increase over the 2014-2015 school year.  One notable exception is a decrease in bullying reporting.  I contribute that not to a real decrease in bullying but schools not reporting incidents as bullying.  That has been an ongoing trend in Delaware.  Offensive touching and fighting/disorderly conduct went up dramatically over the year before.  Pornography and Production more than doubled.  These are very disturbing trends.  What is going on in our schools and districts?  What is happening to students that these numbers keep going up and up?  It will be interesting to see these numbers in a year now that legislation passed where schools don’t have to call the police for many incidents such as fighting/disorderly conduct.

I will attempt to break this down by district and charter schools, and then each school.  That is a lot of hours to do, so please be patient.  None of these reports break down sub-groups or demographics in these offenses and incidents.  So we are unable to see the race or ethnic breakdowns for these or if the students were special education or English Language learners.  The first numbers are for the 2015-2016 year followed by numbers from the 2014-2015 year.

SCHOOL CRIMES

Violent Felonies: 137 (138)

Gun-Free School Offenses- Handgun, Rifle, Shotgun, Starter Gun, Explosives/Incendiary Device: 16 (8)

Weapons Offense: Destructive Weapon, Dangerous Weapon, Dangerous Instrument, Pellet Gun, BB Gun, Knife, Razor Blade/Box Cutter, Brass Knuckles, Bat, Club, Martial Arts Throwing Star: 238 (196)

Drug Offenses: 582 (556)

Assault III: 373 (264)

Unlawful Sexual Contact: 56 (26)

Terroristic Threatening Employee Victim: 0 (0)

School Offenses: 0 (0)

 

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OFFENSES

Pornography- Possession and Production: 50 (22)

Criminal Mischief (Vandalism): 434 (316)

Alcohol, Possession and Use: 88 (80)

Drug Use/Influence: 320 (294)

Felony Theft ($1,500 or more): 2 (4)

Bullying: 1,260 (1,320)

Offensive Touching of a Student: 8,156 (6,134)

Terroristic Threatening of a Student: 752 (560)

Sexual Harassment: 272 (246)

Fighting/Disorderly Conduct: 10,450 (8,680)

Inhalants: 10 (2)

Drug Paraphernalia: 176 (148)

Tobacco Possession and/or use: 686 (782)

Medications- Inappropriate Possession and/or use: 58 (56)

Under 12- Assault III Student Victim: 66 (22)

Under 12- Assault III Employee Victim: 22 (22)

Under 12- Unlawful Sexual Contact III Student Victim: 18 (6)

Under 12- Unlawful Sexual Contact III Employee Victim: 2 (0)

Offensive Touching Employee Victim: 1,217 (808)

Terroristic Threatening Employee Victim: 324 (188)

Teen Dating Violence: 6 (8)

Tampering With Public Records: 0 (0)

 

SUSPENSIONS/EXPULSIONS:

Suspensions (Out of School and In School): 49,629 (47,473)

Expulsions: 123 (95)

Days Suspended/Expelled: 114,666 (98,020)

Unduplicated Students Suspended/Expelled: 17,258 (16,852)

Student Enrollment (9/30/15): 136,027 (134,932)

Percent of Students Suspended/Expelled (Out of School and In School): 13% (12%)

Suspensions (Out of School): 27,372 (25,151)

Days Out of School for Suspension and Expulsion (one day or more): 89,983 (72,848)

Unduplicated Students Suspended (one day or more) or Expelled: 12,063 (11,557)

Percent of Students Suspended (out of school) or Expelled: 9% (9%)

 

SUSPENSIONS/EXPULSIONS BY CATEGORY:

Department of Education Offenses: 10,359 (8,623)

School Violations: 38,651 (38,292)

School Crimes: 739 (653)

 

EXPULSIONS BY SERVICES PROVIDED:

Expulsion with CDAP placement: 54 (44)

Expulsion with services: 45 (31)

Expulsion without services: 24 (20)

 

Breaking News: Special Education Nuclear Blast Will Take Place In Delaware In The Next Month

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a hurricane in Delaware Special Education.  This year I predict a full-blown nuclear blast.  The Exceptional Children Resource’s Group at the Delaware Department of Education will release their FY2014 Special Education Compliance & Results report they must submit to the United States Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs in the next month.  The results are going to be catastrophic for Delaware.  We will be labeled as “needs intervention” once again.

This year’s results will be more controversial than any other year because out of the 43 “indicators” identified by the US DOE this year, 28 of them are based on the state assessment.  In Delaware, that would be the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  In other words, 65.11% of Delaware AND each local school district or charter school’s rating scale will be based on Smarter Balanced.  Participation rate will tie into this.  Delaware did not make the participation rate of 95% for students with disabilities in ANY grade.  So that is 32.65% of the rating.  The other 32.65% is based on proficiency goals for both ELA and Math.  What is odd though is the Math goals are based on the 2014-2015 Smarter Balanced scores but the ELA goals are based on the 2013-2014 DCAS scores.  The other new indicators are results tied to early childhood learning to elementary learning in three different areas covering “growth” and “expectation” for a total of six categories.  These new weights total nearly 14% of the rating.  Other new “results” indicators are graduation rates and drop-out rates, which Delaware did not hit the goals for either one.

In terms of compliance, which used to account for 100% of the Annual State Improvement Plans from the US DOE, this year it only counts for less than 14% of the entire report.  Delaware came in at the halfway mark for this section.  Indicators in this section included disproportionality in all disabilities or specific disabilities (much more of one disability over another, like ADHD for example), a disproportionate amount of suspension rates for minority students who are also students with disabilities, initial evaluation timelines, pre-school transitions, and secondary transition (making sure students with disabilities who transition from middle school to high school are part of their IEP team).  Delaware did perfect in the disproportionality sections, but the other areas fell well below the goals.

The report on this hasn’t come out, but the Delaware DOE did send letters to each school district and charter school in the state.  Based on the numbers in each of these letters, I was able to determine Delaware will be labeled as “needs intervention” this year by the US DOE.

The following districts and charters were labeled as “needs intervention”: Brandywine, Christina, Colonial, Lake Forest, Red Clay, Woodbridge, Campus Community School, Delaware College Prep, EastSide, Prestige Academy, Thomas Edison and students handled through the Department of Students, Children, Youth and their Families.

The following districts and charters were labeled as “needs assistance”: Appoquinimink, Cape Henlopen, Capital, Delmar, Indian River, Laurel, Milford, Smyrna, Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Gateway Lab School, Kuumba Academy, Las Americas ASPIRAS, Positive Outcomes, and Providence Creek Academy.

What is interesting is the charters who have very few students with disabilities or very low populations of intensive or complex categories did extremely well this year.  Out of the 43 indicators, the Charter School of Wilmington only qualified for 1 which they passed.  Delaware Military Academy only had 6.  None of the charters and a few districts did not qualify for the pre-school indicators.  When I determined Delaware’s rating, I factored out any district or charter that was not applicable for any of the 43 indicators.

The participation rates were based on the 2014-2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I find it hysterical that they are using Smarter Balanced for this report.  The goals for Smarter Balanced Math on this report was a proficiency rating of 15% for students with disabilities.  All grades with the exception of 11th grade passed that goal.  But the participation rates, compliance indicators, and early childhood learning all brought Delaware way down this year.  When the final numbers come out, I predict we will be at 37.21% for our overall percentage with US DOE.  For the ratings systems, 80% and above is “meets requirements”, 60% to 79% is “needs assistance”, and 59% and below is “needs intervention”.

To see how your district or charter school did, check out this page on the Delaware DOE website.  Letters were sent out to each Superintendent or Head of School (charters) on May 31st.

Let me be the first to say I think it is utterly preposterous they are using the Smarter Balanced scores and participation rates for this report.  It is ludicrous to think it accounts for nearly two-thirds of it.  For those who ever thought testing is good, not only are teachers evaluated based on the scores, but our schools are now going through double jeopardy based on the scores and participation rates, especially schools with high populations of low-income and minority students who ALSO have high populations of students with disabilities.  I don’t accept this report and see it as utter garbage.  While some of the compliance indicators, the graduation rates, and the drop-out rates are worthy measures, the rest of it is utter crap.  I’ve said this last year and the year before, but there are so many other worthwhile things they could be measuring with these annual reports.  Such as IEPs being implemented with fidelity, IEP denials, and parent feedback.  In fact, the only thing remotely surrounding parents in this is participation rates, and that is an extreme dig at parental choices that are not against the law.  Delaware and the US DOE will NEVER learn…

I hate to be the deliverer of bad news, but once I saw these letters and what they were measuring, I knew I would be spending the rest of my day figuring all this out.  The last time we got a “needs intervention” in Delaware, back in 2014, Governor Markell announced the creation of a Special Education Strategic Plan.  He set aside funds in the FY2015 budget for this.  Almost two years later and this Strategic Plan still hasn’t seen the light of day.  But a former Rodel employee with very little special education background is getting paid a very nice salary as part of the Secretary of Education’s office.  Matthew Korobkin is in charge of this “strategic plan”.  So far the only thing I’ve heard is how much the Autism community in Delaware was pissed off at him for essentially trying to copy their Autism Blueprint into his strategic plan.  Money well spent Jack!  An IEP Task Force, formed in the General Assembly in 2014, did create legislation that is just now going into effect, but the task force never reconvened even though this was a huge discussion point towards the end of the first round.

Why Didn’t Freire Charter School In Wilmington Announce Their Bomb Threat Today?

freire_charter_school_dragonmark

You won’t find this on the News Journal.  Or on Freire’s Facebook page either.  But the school had a bomb threat today which caused at least seven Wilmington police cars to come to the school.  After the police investigated, the students were allowed back in the school an hour later.  Not confirmed is a school authority advising a local resident that several students were suspended and the matter is still being investigated.  Were parents of the students notified about this?  Where is the transparency in our Delaware charter schools???

As well, there have been at least five visits by the Wilmington Fire Department at the school since they opened in August over fire alarms.

Freire Charter School of Wilmington opened in August after a hellacious year involving issues with the Midtown Brandywine Neighborhood Association.  When the neighbors protested the school’s opening without a clear plan on the increased traffic, the former Head of School got into an exchange with one of the protesters which resulted in charges filed against him.  He “resigned” from the school shortly thereafter.  Freire’s original model was a “zero tolerance” charter school, but they changed that last year because of the “specific interest” clause in their admission policy.  They applied for a federal grant for startup costs which specifically prohibits any type of specific interest in their enrollment strategies.  The above picture is the emblem of Freire, but I’m not sure what a fire-breathing dragon has to do with a charter school…

Meanwhile, Delaware legislators in Washington D.C. wrote the FBI to look into the multiple bomb threats across Delaware the past few weeks and when the FBI should act on this.  According to the article by the Middletown Transcript, only state and local authorities have been investigating the Delaware threats.

Is Regulation 616 A Gift For Delaware Charter Schools To Kick Out The Unwanted?

PrincipalsOffice

Tomorrow the Delaware State Board of Education will vote on Regulation 616.  This regulation concerning school suspensions, expulsions, and out of school placements (alternative schools) is very controversial.  I wrote in December about the Assistant Superintendent from Smyrna’s very funny letter about this regulation, but many more have come in and they are all very alarming.  The biggest of which is one from the American Civil Liberties Union, as seen below:

Continue reading “Is Regulation 616 A Gift For Delaware Charter Schools To Kick Out The Unwanted?”

Can Restorative Justice Change Our Schools?

Drew Serres, a member of the Coalition for Fairness & Equity in School, wrote an excellent letter to the editor in the News Journal today about Restorative Justice and suspensions in Delaware Schools.

Since its passage, House Bill 85 has been adversely affecting all students; but it has had a disproportionate effect on students of color and those with disabilities. For instance, African-American and Latino students are suspended three-to-four times more than their white peers, even when they represent a substantially low enrollment rate overall.

This legislation goes back to 1993.  Which is about the time when all of the zero tolerance practices came into play.  Personally, I think some schools cherry-pick students when it comes to discipline and suspensions.  Discrimination rears its ugly head in strange ways in Delaware.

I am lucky. The school policies when I was growing up allowed me to learn from my mistakes. I think all children deserve that opportunity as well.

There are certain offenses that should cause suspensions, in my opinion, especially fighting.  But what do we do when someone is just defending their self when someone attacks them.  If no adult can stop it in time, should another student allow himself to be pummeled?  In today’s world, that student would be suspended as well.  I have been told by a school administrator that if a student puts his hands over his face, that is sufficient.  Really?  That makes the difference?  I don’t condone fighting, but if students have to protect themselves than they should be allowed to do it.  My issue is adults not intervening in time.  I know, fights can happen in an instant, and I don’t blame teachers or school staff for actual fighting.  But I do think they can keep a more watchful eye on students to begin with, especially during transition times, recess, or lunch.

Restorative justice is a model of discipline based on appropriate consequences for a student’s poor behavior and reconciliation of the student and the school system. It is a process where offenders, instead of just being punished, have the opportunity to restore the harm done to the community. It is actually a lot more work for the offender, but instead of feeling ostracized and criminalized they are given the opportunity to restore their inner sense of worth and to get on a path where they learn how to contribute.

My biggest question out of this is how this is dealt with when a student with disabilities has “poor behavior” and doesn’t understand their bad behavior because it is a result of a neurological disability.  All too often, students with disabilities are ostracized in schools because they don’t understand.  Can inclusion truly work in this type of environment or are we putting these kids through the wringer?  I’m all for change because the way it is now just isn’t working.

In the Christina School District, they were mandated by the Office of Civil Rights to reduce the amount of suspensions because African-Americans were being disproportionately suspended.  As a result, they went from zero tolerance to what they have now.  They still have the issues going on they had before the OCR complaint.  However, I have been told by many teachers in Christina they are told not to report infractions because of the OCR mandates.  That just makes the situation worse, but the district is beholden to Federal law in this situation.  As a result, parents who see this do not want to have their child attend Christina schools and they choice them out to charter schools.  As a result, Christina loses a lot of local funding.  This double-edged sword doesn’t work, so we need to do something.

With all the pressure put on teachers on a district, state, and federal level and the demands on their time, do they actually have the time to establish restorative justice techniques between test prep, evaluations, instruction, professional development and test prep?  I heard many teachers had a hard enough time submitting grades into the state E-School system last weekend, on their days off, because the DOE decided that would be a good time to do an upgrade on the system.  Furthermore, if administrators aren’t willing to practice what they preach, will these children be able to separate authority from adults with bad behavior?  If administrators come down on students with an iron fist but at the same time try these techniques on them, it sends a very mixed message that can be very confusing to a student, especially the younger ones.  This obviously depends on the type of behavior exhibited by the student, but this is a very fine line.

What this doesn’t take into account is home life.  If a child’s parents just don’t care enough to practice restorative justice in the home, will a student be able to carry this into school?  Take Christina for example.  As a result of school choice, the “better” students have left.  This leaves the schools with all the perceived “troublemakers”.  If a “troublemaker” choices out, chances are they will be back if the charter counsels them out or expels them.  This leaves a disproportionate number of “troublemakers” in schools.  I can’t stand when these students are referred to as animals.  I truly can’t.  Yes, they have bad behavior and they make bad choices, but to refer to them as barbaric or animalistic demeans them as a human being.

These are tough questions, and I won’t pretend to have all the answers.  But we need to find those answers fast as more lives are lost to the justice system.

Delaware DOE Responds To Current Discipline Issues At Delaware Met

Yesterday, I wrote an article about some very concerning events at Delaware Met.  I emailed the Delaware Department of Education about these concerns, along with legislators, Governor Markell, and Attorney General Matt Denn.  State Rep. Paul Baumbach asked the DOE to look at the amount of in-school suspensions as well to which Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman responded today:


From: Blowman David <david.blowman@DOE.K12.DE.US>
To:
Baumbach Paul <paul.baumbach@state.de.us>; Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Cc:
Nagourney Jennifer <Jennifer.Nagourney@doe.k12.de.us>; Godowsky Steven <Steven.Godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>; Markell Jack <jack.markell@state.de.us>; O’Mara Lindsay <lindsay.omara@state.de.us>; Denn Matthew <matthew.denn@state.de.us>; Williams Kimberly <kimberly.williams@state.de.us>; Kowalko John <john.kowalko@state.de.us>; Matthews Sean <sean.matthews@state.de.us>; Gray Teri <teri.gray@sbe.k12.de.us>; Haberstroh Susan Keene <susan.haberstroh@doe.k12.de.us>; Young Shana <Shana.Young@doe.k12.de.us>; Carwell John <john.carwell@doe.k12.de.us>; Whalen Michelle <Michelle.Whalen@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent:
Friday, October 23, 2015 2:32 PM
Subject:
RE: Delaware Met

Representative Baumbach,

DOE staff visited Delaware Met yesterday afternoon to investigate the alleged violations of students rights.  Below is a summary of their observations relative to the specific allegations reported by Mr. Ohlandt:

  • Hiring prison guards – The school has hired four new support staff to help address the school’s climate issues.  They began working at the school on Monday. Two of these individuals have backgrounds in juvenile corrections and currently serve a number of Delaware Met students in external community based programs. 
  • Multiple suspensions – It appears that the school is attempting to be more consistent with holding students accountable to the code of conduct which might explain a spike in suspensions. The exact number of suspensions will be verified.
  • Inappropriate student confinements – There was no evidence of inappropriate student confinements. DDOE staff observed the In School Suspension (ISS) room.   There were 2-3 students in the room. 

DOE will continue to monitor the school and investigate potential violations of the school’s charter through the formal review process. 

Many thanks, David



My biggest concern is how special education and IEPs are being implemented with fidelity at Delaware Met.  And as I wrote earlier today, there seems to be confusion with their Code of Conduct, discipline efforts, and their Restorative Justice approach.  In essence, I’m sure there is a lot we aren’t being told about what the exact nature is of the offenses students are committing that warrant suspension.  From what I am hearing from Blowman, the school may be administering a type of zero-tolerance program in an attempt to instill order in the school.  I do not think that is viable solution, nor is it a positive long-term action.  It takes more students out of the classroom and away from education.  I have not seen anything coming from this school to indicate they are making the best decisions or even know how to.  But can parents of suspended students afford to wait until the State Board of Education makes a decision in mid-December?  And even then, if they ultimately wind up deciding to revoke the school’s charter, it would not be until the end of the school year.  How much damage can happen until then?

As well, I have heard numerous references to “gang-related” activity, both from third parties and the DOE’s own Formal Review notification letter.  I don’t believe the DOE is equipped as a state agency to handle that type of thing and it may take the Delaware Attorney General’s office getting involved to gage what is truly going on with that aspect of events.

I also have to wonder how well the staff is at dealing with these types of matters.  From what I am hearing, the bulk of the teachers are new.  Do they have the necessary training and development to be able to deal with defiance from students?  Does the administration?  And for that matter, who is running the school?  Is it Sean Gallagher who already has a full-time role as the Executive Director of Leadership at Innovative Schools for the Delaware Leadership Project?  Or is it his intern who Gallagher stated at their 9/28 board meeting would run the “day-to-day” details of the school?  And why has no one questioned the apparent conflict of interest with being paid by both Innovative Schools and the school that makes payments to Innovative Schools?

This culture of silence emanating from the school and their lack of transparency is highly troubling.  Two board members left (which are not changed on their web site), no staff are listed on their website, and no board minutes have been released since their 9/23 meeting even though they have had three board meetings since then (their “special board meetings” on 9/28 and 10/12 and their regular monthly board meeting on 10/21).  We don’t know what their current student enrollment is or even how many students have been suspended in the two months since the school opened.  I’m sure answers will come at the November 4th meeting of the Charter School Accountability Committee meeting for Delaware Met’s formal review, but that may be little comfort to students and their parents who want answers now.

Red Clay’s Skyline Middle School Parents Want Change In School Climate, Release Youtube Video

At the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education meeting on Wednesday night, several parents of students who attend Skyline Middle School spoke before the board about school climate.  The school has several new students from the City of Wilmington attending the school and parents are very concerned about the 500% increase in suspension rates and a rapid increase in bullying.  Sounds like Skyline needs to be looked at as well as The Delaware Met.  I’m glad the board at Red Clay is taking quick and decisive action on this, but these things just shouldn’t happen under any circumstances.

I just posted the following on Facebook:

The bullying has got to stop. No more excuses. Schools need to be a safe haven for ALL students. Matt Denn, please look into this in ALL Delaware schools. We need to make sure special education is being implemented and done right. We also need to put an end to violence being inflicted on students. No child should ever come home crying and tell his parents he is too scared to go to school. No parent should ever have to stand before a school board and demand change. It just shouldn’t happen.

Glitch In DOE Reporting Fails To Show School Offenses & Crimes Data For Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware College Prep, & Delaware Military Academy

How about those apples? I actually found a huge technicality in the DOE reporting system for bullying and the DOE fixed it in record time.  Contrary to popular belief, things at the Red Clay charter schools are NOT as rosy as the past couple years of bullying and discipline reports provided by the Delaware Department of Education would have you believe.  I was very puzzled when I saw, for two years in a row, none of these three charters had their individual reports come up on the DOE School profiles website.  I emailed John Sadowski, the Program Manager for Climate and Discipline at the DOE this morning and advised him of this.  As of 12 noon, the reports are now available.

I’m not sure what happened, and it didn’t change the Annual bullying report I posted this morning, but it does show some things parents would not have seen before this fix.  I would like to believe this happened because of the odd nature of Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware College Prep and Delaware Military Academy being the only charters in the state authorized by a school district.  In this case, the Red Clay Consolidated School District.

Using Delaware College Prep as an example, this is the only information parents could see for them on the School Profiles page of the DOE website:

Number of Reported Offenses (2014-15)
School District State
School Crimes (Title 14, Delaware Code, §4112) 1 74 678
Department of Education (DOE) Offenses 23 1,239 10,432
All School Safety Policy in Place N/A
Suspensions and Expulsions
2014-15
Number of Suspensions 44
Number of Expulsions 0
Count of Students Suspended/Expelled 23
September 30 Enrollment 569
Percent of Students Suspended/Expelled 4%
District Percentage 11%
State Percentage 12%

When you hit the tab for details in both these sections you get to see a breakdown for this data as you can see in the below reports. But before 12 noon today, it didn’t come up for the three Red Clay charters while it did for every other public school in the state.  I put up both the reports for Red Clay, before and after so you can see the difference.

Red Clay Consolidated Combined Report 2014-2015, 6:59am, 10/7/15.
Red Clay Consolidated Combined Report 2014-2015, 12:25pm, 10/7/15
Charter School of Wilmington Combined Report 2014-2015
Delaware College Prep Combined Report 2014-2015
Delaware Military Academy Combined Report 2014-2015

So what got me all interested in Red Clay charters and these reports?  It had a lot to do with this article.  I knew the student was suspended for many days over suspected drug activity. I wanted to be sure Charter School of Wilmington reported it right to the state since that was part of the issues at the time. I believe they did, because it shows 20 students were suspended from the school for a total of 118 days.

I don’t believe this was an intentional mistake on the DOE’s part, but oversight and making sure all the reports came up would have been prudent. I’m glad they fixed it though and parents can see what actually happens in terms of reportable offenses at these three schools.

With the current issues Delaware College Prep is going through, knowing they have had 18 fights and a violent felony might be something the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education may want to know about. Although I am curious what the two Delaware DOE offenses are for Delaware Military Academy with nothing checked off in the sections for that category.  Maybe they aren’t done fixing it…

The Delaware Met Down For The Count A Month Into The School Year

Today, I got an email from someone about The Delaware Met closing next week.  Usually, I want to get more information on something like this, so I reached out to the Delaware Department of Education and the leaders at the school.  Not one response.  I put out some more feelers, and it looks like this story has some weight to it.  I don’t have specifics, but I’m hearing about multiple incidents of violence at the school, a student brought a gun to the school on the very first day, and students leaving the school in mass quantities.  The school just opened a month ago.

This school is being touted as a “Big Picture Learning School”, whatever that means.  But it looks like families aren’t buying it.  Is this a sign of things to come for Delaware charters?  I’ve heard that many of the new charters are not prepared for their students this year, despite what the DOE is saying.  I’ve heard of multiple special education issues going on at many charters this fall.

Back to The Delaware Met, I’m hearing their relationship with Innovative Schools has soured to the point of breaking.  This is not a situation where the DOE will be closing the school, but The Delaware Met will be voluntarily closing down.  Has that ever happened before in Delaware?  This is a charter school that met their enrollment figures last Spring when many other charters were struggling.  So what happened?  I’m hearing many of the students were at-risk students who were facing issues at other schools including potential expulsion and suspension issues.  I have no idea how many students at this school are students with disabilities.  But how prepared was the school to handle these issues?  If the allegations are true, not prepared at all.  It’s one thing to apply to open a charter and get through the DOE.  It is quite another to actually implement all the talk and ideas once the school opens.

The other night at the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission committee meeting on Charter-District Collaboration, a Red Clay principal actually advised the committee he is getting a lot of students transferring back to traditional schools from charter schools.  The charter movement in Delaware may be hitting the brakes folks.  Is the party over?  Between financial concerns, funding issues, transportation problems (more last year), special education, and Smarter Balanced results showing the most at-risk students in charters are no different than traditional schools, I think it is past time the Delaware DOE ended their love affair with the charter movement.

If the school were to voluntarily close next week, it would make sense because the school would receive funding based on their September 30th count.  Better to do it now than to wait until after they get funding…

Updated, 5:44pm: This story is gaining traction by the minute.  Multiple sources are confirming, but no official word from DOE or the school.  The only question is exactly when and how many students are actually left at the school….

Updated, 5:47pm: Other sources are telling me this school received a significant student population from Moyer, which was shut down by the state a year ago and closed it’s doors for good on June 30th, 2015.

Email Penny Schwinn At The DOE To Oppose The Opt-Out Punishment In The School Report Card!!!!

It appears the Academic Framework Working Group will have a few more meetings heading into September.  They will be finalizing their decisions at their September 23rd meeting.  Today I had a very cordial email exchange with Penny Schwinn, the Chief Officer of Performance & Accountability at the Department of Education.  I found out the next three meetings will be on 9/2, 9/17 and 9/23 and I asked Penny Schwinn if they could be made public and for more stakeholders added to this group.

Schwinn indicated other than the non-negotiable items mandated by the US DOE, which have to be in there, the other items have not been finalized, including the participation rate penalty and the growth measures.  She said no weights for the school report card have been finalized at this point as well.  I did share with her that I felt far too much weight, as proposed based on their March meeting, is tied to the Smarter Balanced Assessment results.  In addition, I did advise her more of the school culture, such as suspension & expulsion rates and even bullying statistics should be added, as this is a frequent concern for parents in any school choice.

Schwinn also shared that all Delaware Superintendents will receive emails about the next few meetings and all have been invited to attend. She did not say anything about the Board members in each district, but I did request the Board Presidents be emailed as well since they have a large say in district matters as well. I also asked if the meetings could be recorded and released on the DOE website to show a level of transparency for the public.

This measure the AFWG wants to have with a participation rates for standardized testing being multiplied by the school’s academic performance is a punishment against schools. It is out of the school’s hands if a parent opts their child out.  It is 100% a parent’s right and their decision.  Penny Schwinn did indicate she is more than happy to receive public input on this matter and anything associated with the school report card and welcomes any input.  So please email Penny Schwinn and the accountability department at the Delaware DOE, DOEAccountability@doe.k12.de.us and include me in the cc: section with kevino3670@yahoo.com so I can get an accurate feel for the opposition to this punishing measure.

I suspect the State Board of Education will attempt to vote on this at their October meeting, without true stakeholder input.  This could be very damaging for our schools and teachers and students.  A poor grade for a school can cause a lot of public perception to sway parents towards one school or another.  This School Report Card is vastly weighted with the results of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which can not and should not be a determining factor for how good or bad a school might be.

As well, email your legislator, the Delaware PTA, the school board in your district, and anyone who you think might be able to oppose this.  If you have children in Delaware public schools, talk to other parents.  Let the principal know you oppose this.  MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!  Whether you support or oppose opt-out, this is not an accurate measurement of a school!

The Coalition For Fairness & Equity In Schools Needs YOUR Help!

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.

Teachers Victims of Fascist Regime When Speaking Out Against Standard-Based IEPs, Welcome To The New America…

Since I wrote my article yesterday about the new “Standards Based IEPs” the Delaware DOE are “consulting” with school districts, I have heard from many teachers across the USA. What I am hearing is shocking and appalling. I cannot reveal any names of these teachers as they fear retaliation and apprisal stemming from what they have told me. Apparently, standards based IEPs are not just a Delaware thing. Many states are adopting this new form of IEP. Many special education teachers are firmly against what these new IEPs are based on. When they speak out against it to their administators or school districts, they are punished. Some have been suspended, and others have been suspended without pay. Others have been switched off a particular child’s IEP. For the sole crime of using their freedom of speech to address what they feel violates the spirit of an IEP. This is a sin beyond measure. What has our country come to when those we hire to instruct our children are punished for speaking about what is best for special needs children. Aside from their parents, they know these children best. They know what their strengths and weaknesses are. This should be illegal. I am surprised more teacher unions aren’t addressing this matter. What has become of education in America?

Many parents as well have reached out on this topic and feel this is not what is best for their children with IEPs. To say they are furious would be putting it mildly. Does this mean that existing IEPs will all have to be rewritten when this rolls out everywhere? Where is the parent as well as the rest of the IEP team’s input? An IEP is decided by an IEP team, not a state DOE, or the US DOE. To change what has been in existence for years by a regime that really doesn’t care what the people think is very arrogant. This is not America. It has become an authoritarian dictatorship, where those who speak out against it are either put down, or worse, punished. This affect MILLIONS of lives. With dwindling support from teachers and parents, it is scary to think what will become of education in our country if it continues on it’s current track.