18 Who Will Make An Impact In 2018: Laura Sturgeon

The 4th Senate District race is on!  A few days ago, Democrat Dan Cruce dropped out of the race clearing the way for Laura Sturgeon to take on Republican Greg Lavelle.  Taking on the guy who has been in office since 2001 won’t be an easy task, but if anyone can do it, it’s Sturgeon!  A teacher, wife, and also a member of the Delaware State Education Association Executive Board, Sturgeon comes with a packed resume.

For Lavelle, who served as a member of the House of Representatives from 2001-2013 and the Senate since then, can he muster the support to continue his Senate seat?  Delaware Liberal reported yesterday that there are now more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district.  Lavelle is a huge supporter of Right To Work laws whereas Sturgeon is not.  In education, Lavelle is known more for flip-flopping on the Smarter Balanced vote than anything else.  This is a guy, when presented with the opt out bill for a second time, actually said “I wish I could opt out of voting on this bill”.

The Delaware General Election is still far away but several new contenders are putting their names forward.  I expect this particular race to get heated very soon!  If I were a betting man, Lavelle will attempt to gain votes by discussing the recent DSEA endorsement of Regulation 225.  Sturgeon, a teacher in Brandywine, will gain votes from those opposed to Right To Work laws.  This will be a very interesting race to watch!

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The Exceptional Delaware Hero Of The Year 2017: Laurie Howard

I normally wait to release this until the last day of the year, but this year’s hero demanded the honor sooner.  You see, Laurie Howard passed away.  Surrounded by her loved ones, she left us far too soon.  Laurie was many things: a mother, a wife, a teacher, and a friend.

I’ve known Laurie for almost three years.  I met her through this blog.  A teacher in Caesar Rodney School District, Laurie and I were in fierce agreement on many things.  That standardized testing in the form of the Smarter Balanced Assessment is wrong.  That every single parent has a fundamental right to opt their child out of that test.  That corporations are slowly taking over public schools and school districts are powerless to stop it.

Laurie even had her own short-lived blog but only a select few were aware it was her.  Back in 2015, Laurie launched a blog where she challenged the Delaware State Education Association to fervently support House Bill 50.  She called out DSEA leadership for their sheepish support of the legislation.  The blog did not last long as Laurie was terrified of being found out and terminated from her job as a teacher.  But it had an impact.  From accounts I heard, Jenner was very upset about Laurie’s blog posts.  But Laurie felt strongly the teacher’s union was in bed with the privateers in public education.  At least their leadership was. I loved that blog and I wish Laurie had been able to continue it but I completely understand her reasoning to end it abruptly.  Many assumed they knew who wrote that blog but they were wrong. It was a secret that I carried to her grave. But I know she would not mind having this knowledge out now. To me, it was one of her many legacies. My only regret is not saving her articles for posterity and remembrance.  When Laurie shut down the blog she deleted all of the posts.

Laurie joined the Delaware Parent Teacher Association in 2015 so she could be in a position to advocate to a wider audience. She was well aware and did research on the corporate education reform movement and the dangers it posed in our public schools.  One of her articles focused on how PISA was a misused test. One of her biggest worries was the growing amount of tracking going on with students.  She felt, and I agree, that schools have become more about diagnosing students than educating them.  She did not like the feds controlling education and thought they should stick their noses out of local control.

In 2016, Laurie started another blog in an attempt to save the Schwartz Center for the arts in Dover.  She was a fervent supporter of theater and the arts.  I wished she had won that fight as well.

Last Spring, Laurie was diagnosed with lung cancer.  She was already set to retire at the end of the 2016-2017 school year.  I had the honor of attending her retirement party at the Schwartz Center in Dover.  She was happy and humbled by so many of her peers and friends celebrating her time as a Delaware educator.

I talked to Laurie over the summer, mostly on social media.  She was scared.  She didn’t want to leave.  But she didn’t want the world to see this.  I did my best to not talk about education matters because I wanted the borrowed time I spent with her to be about her and to see if she needed anything.  On her Facebook page, she talked about how beautiful this world is and she put on a brave face.  In the past few weeks, Laurie put this up on her account:

Okay, time is getting mighty precious lately. I’ve been brought to the Delaware Hospice Center in Milford. My hope is that the awesome care I’ve received the past two days here will provide for extended life opportunities with my friends and family! I was asked to help my friends figure out what to say or do as a result of this stay. Just know if I’m your FB friend, we are friends. I love you, I care about you and your family. You don’t have to send expressions of love and longtime friendships (unless you want too). My love and best wishes for a long and healthy life are sent without question. Love to all!

Laurie’s post was just who she was.  A couple of years ago, Laurie was able to answer a question for me.  One that haunted my soul for a long time.  It was purely coincidental, and while I won’t get into the question, it did give me understanding and comfort about someone.  For the longest time, I thought this person was evil incarnate but Laurie urged me to forgive this person.  And I did.  That’s who she was.

Together with our friend Natalie, we would haunt meetings in Dover.  Especially the Assessment Inventory Committee and meetings about the opt out bill.  We would give public comment about how bad the testing was and how it wasn’t right for Delaware children.  Laurie’s struggles with students in the classroom over this test are very similar throughout the state.  My only wish was that Laurie would have been able to use her voice at its full force because it was a voice worth hearing. I will miss you Laurie Howard. I find comfort that you are watching over all of us and I pray that you can impart your wisdom to those who think education is a financial playground. I know Laurie would want me to keep fighting the fight, and I will, the best I can.  May you rest in peace my sweet friend.

Seaford Mother Outraged Over Potential Abuse From Seaford Teacher Towards Her Child With Autism

Tonight, Rob Petree with 105.9 wrote an article about a Seaford School District parent who is claiming a teacher took unnecessary physical measures against her child with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the Autism spectrum.  The mother explained what happened.  When the student was told he could not go to the office when he became upset over not finding his writing journal, the mother claims the teacher took things a bit too far:

“My son said the teacher went so far as to stand in front of the door and block the door and not let him out. The teacher told him to get back in his seat, and he said ‘no I want to go to the office,’ and the teacher told him ‘no get in your seat or I’m going to put you in your seat,’ and Landon once again said no he wanted to go to the office, so the teacher grabbed him by his arm, picked him up, carried him across the room and slammed him down in his chair. Landon said he then got back up out of his chair and tried to go out the door again and the teacher wouldn’t let him out of the door. So he went over and sat down in the chair at the round table near the door, and the teacher again was telling him to get up and go get back in his seat and Landon refused. The teacher went over to try to grab ahold of Landon and Landon got upset, jumped up out of the chair, and grabbed the back of the chair and slammed the chair into the floor, trying to get around the teacher to get out the door. He said at that point the teacher said ‘I’ve had enough of this,’ and grabbed him up by his arm and physically carried him out of the door of the classroom, banging his forehead into the metal door facing in the process, and Landon said at that point as soon as the teacher sat him down in the hallway he ran straight to the office, and that’s when he called me.”

Even more alarming is the Seaford Middle School Principal’s response to her when she asked to see the video of the incident:

Today, I had a meeting with the Middle School Principal and basically what they told me today was that the teacher said that he asked Landon to leave several times and Landon wouldn’t leave the room, and that Landon was throwing pens, pencils, chairs and desks, and that they seen this on video; however, no one was able to produce any video to me showing my son behaving the way they said he behaved. I honestly, truly believe my son, and I believe this teacher is doing nothing but trying to protect himself and the school the same way. I cleaned my son’s locker out today, and he’s not going back to that school as long as that teacher is there.

This is unacceptable.  I found out today the same thing happened to the parents of the child who was assaulted last week at Caesar Rodney High School.  The district refused to release surveillance footage that captured the incident (and I will have more to say on that whole thing that hasn’t been made public yet).  I tagged tons of our state legislators on my Facebook page with a link to the 105.9 article asking for legislation that would demand schools release video to parents whenever their child is harmed in any possible way.

The district will not respond to any of this.  They will shut up unless they have to fire the teacher.  People ask me why I write so much about bad stuff happening in our schools instead of the good.  Sorry, this kind of crap outrages me.  You can have many great things happening in schools, but this is what folks remember and talk about.  This is a travesty.  Even if this teacher used proper restraint and seclusion practices as dictated by state law, the district should still release the video to the parent.  Instead, they are covering their asses.

A former board member for a district did tell me that video like this is released to the police department.  They will review it and eventually it would be shared with the parent(s).  I explained that the video could help a parent understand what happened.  It could be necessary for them to see it so the parent can seek sufficient medical or counseling treatment for their child.

I wrote an article last year on the Delaware Dept. of Education’s annual Restraint & Seclusion report.  Seaford Middle School had 13 incidents of restraint in the 2015-2016 school year.  Compared to Milford’s middle school which had 1.  In Seaford, they had 38 incidents of restraint affecting 21 students.  But if this situation played out anywhere close to what the mother is claiming, this was no ordinary restraint.  If it went down how she said it did, this teacher should face criminal charges for assault.  Dealing with special education students can be challenging for teachers and parents.  But if you don’t have the proper training required to take action like this, you should do nothing and contact someone who can help.  Sadly, for this student, it will be a day he will never forget.

I don’t care where a video is: cafeteria, classroom, bus, hallway or anywhere on school property.  If a parent asks to see it, you show it to them, no questions asked.  The act of withholding something like that immediately sends red flags up with parents.  Or saying you have it but then you don’t.  You reap what you sow with that kind of logic.  In the case of the Family Educational Records Protection Act (FERPA), that applies to educational records.  If a parent requests records on their child, the school is obligated to produce it.  But is surveillance video considered an educational record?  That will be the argument here.  But I don’t care.  If a kid gets hurt, you do the right thing and show the parent.  Cause it could mean the difference between a parent deciding whether or not to sue the district.

This should NOT happen in our schools.  Tonight, I am very pissed off.  At this.  At Caesar Rodney.  At other districts where I am trying to help parents navigate through special education issues with schools.  So much of what I help parents with are things every school should know by now.  Districts and charters complain all the time about getting sued so much and the “predatory” law firms.  Guess what?  The very act of protecting yourself is usually what gets you sued.  How does that work out for you?

Updated, 9:50pm: A big thank you to special education advocate Devon Hynson for providing a link to what FERPA says about surveillance videos-

Schools are increasingly using security cameras as a tool to monitor and improve student safety. Images of students captured on security videotapes that are maintained by the school’s law enforcement unit are not considered education records under FERPA.  Accordingly, these videotapes may be shared with parents of students whose images are on the video and with outside law enforcement authorities, as appropriate. Schools that do not have a designated law enforcement unit might consider designating an employee to serve as the “law enforcement unit” in order to maintain the security camera and determine the appropriate circumstances in which the school would disclose recorded images.

 

The Smyrna School District Zero Tolerance Pipeline Part 1: The First Incident

Student J in the Smyrna School District was a victim of a bizarre scenario where he wound up expelled from the school district and arrested. Continue reading “The Smyrna School District Zero Tolerance Pipeline Part 1: The First Incident”

East Side Charter Teacher Fired Over Allegations Of Physical Abuse Against A 10 Year Old Student

According to Fox29 Philly, a teacher at East Side Charter School in Wilmington was fired on Tuesday after alleged physical abuse against a 10 year old female student.

Without a note, she says her teacher refused to let her in class.  When she tried to walk through the classroom door a few minutes later, she said the 27-year-old male teacher picked her up and slammed her against a bulletin board.

The girl told her mother when she got home, according to the article.  She was taken to A.I. DuPont Hospital and was diagnosed with a bruised elbow.  Her arm is in a sling according to the picture in the article.  Charges are expected against the unnamed teacher today.  He began his tenure at Eastside this January.

Teachers hate reading this kind of stuff.  They know people will start saying this happens all the time and teachers get scrutinized over it.  To be clear, this does not happen all the time.  When it does happen though, I feel it is worth writing about.  When I see 27-year-old teacher who just started in January, I have to wonder where the teacher came from.  I know Eastside utilizes Teach for America and Relay Graduate School, which I find to be ineffective fast-prep teacher programs.

I do want to salute Eastside for taking quick and decisive action with this case.  It looks like there was surveillance video which is now in the hands of the Wilmington Police.

Delaware has over 13,000 teachers.  A few bad apples should not upset the whole cart.  I just hope the student in this case is okay and is able to return to an education setting without fear of punishment after getting to school a few minutes late.

 

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.

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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…

Why Does The DOE Pay Vendors To Do Teacher Surveys & Reports?

I’ve always wondered why the Delaware Department of Education has outside vendors do surveys and reports on teachers.  It’s not like 95% of these companies aren’t already biased towards the DOE’s way of thinking anyways.  The DOE will say it is so they don’t have a conflict of interest.  What do those employees due at the DOE all day if outside vendors do everything?  Here is the latest report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Operation Public Education based on a survey they did about teacher recruitment.  Of course there are a gazillion recommendations coming out of this.  Maybe they are good, maybe they are bad.  I don’t know.  I don’t work for a school district.  I do know the DOE paid this consultant over $44,000 for the last report they did.  How much coin will they get for this one?

Delaware Met Teacher Defends…I Don’t Know What, Trying To Wrap My Head Around This One…

Sometimes a comment just screams “I want my own post on this”!  This one definitely deserves a focus.  I posted last night about student comments at Delaware Met’s formal review public hearing.  Never in a million years did I expect an actual response from someone at the school.

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