Every once in a while, stories do get a happy ending. Continue reading “Smyrna School Board Welcomes J Back Into The Smyrna School District”
There was so much activity going on Sunday night/Monday morning with bills passing left and right, I didn’t realize a very important one passed the Senate. House Bill 176 passed the General Assembly and is waiting to be signed by Delaware Governor John Carney. Anyone who has been following this bill and the backstory behind it knows this started with one father’s fight against the Brandywine School District.
Pat Wahl’s son was alleged to have brought a weapon into school and was suspended. His father fought the charge but the Brandywine Board of Education voted on it and agreed to the administrator’s recommendation. Wahl appealed the decision with the State Board of Education and won. After a legal situation with the district, Wahl and Brandywine settled. The result of the settlement was Brandywine would change their zero tolerance policies. Wahl took it another step and spoke with State Rep. Deb Hudson. As a result, House Bill #176 was born. Congrats to Wahl, Brandywine, and State Rep. Hudson for taking what could have been a matter of sour grapes and actually creating something lasting for all Delaware Schools.
While HB #176 deals primarily with weapons, this could be the start of a whole new way of looking at school discipline. As I’ve been writing the series about what happened to J in Smyrna School District, I have heard from several parents about similar kinds of situations. It has become very transparent to me that the next leg of the Delaware 149th General Assembly needs some companion legislation to House Bill #176. Pat Wahl had the time and the means to take things as far as he did, but not all parents are so fortunate. Not to disparage Wahl in any way, but for every one of them, there are probably 25 parents who wouldn’t have the money, resources, or even knowledge to be able to fight these issues. Which is exactly why I am tackling them: to spread that knowledge and shine a light on what many are seeing as a very heavy hand on the part of some school districts when it comes to discipline.
In the meantime, I will take this victory and raise a glass in honor of Wahl. I look forward to Carney signing this and making this the law of the land in Delaware.
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!
Consider this a glimpse into the future. This picture won’t make any sense now, but it will later. This is an end result of a battle that has gone on for well over a year and a half between a student at Smyrna Middle School and the district, led by now Superintendent Patrik Williams, and their refusal to bow down from zero tolerance policies in the district. This is ugly, but it doesn’t stop at the Smyrna School District. It gets bigger from there and involves the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Department of Justice, the police, and the Justice of the Peace in Delaware. Continue reading “Prelude: Patrik Williams & Smyrna School District’s Egregious Zero Tolerance Railroading Of Middle School Student”
Big, big day in the House and Senate Education Committee meetings tomorrow. While I don’t expect the crowd from 2015, the opt out bill should be interesting. The surprise bill of the season, House Bill 70, dealing with mandatory cursive has generated a lot of discussion. While not listed below, House Bill 176, which I like to call “The Wahl Bill”, will be heard in the House Homeland Safety & Security Committee. This bill was inspired by the case against the Brandywine School District and recently settled. The bill deals with zero tolerance and weapons in schools.
House Bill 142, which deals with School Resource Officer training, passed the House today and was sent to the Senate Education Committee.
Twelve days ago, I put up a post about a Mom taking on Red Clay’s “Zero Tolerance Against Bullying”. Apparently the situation is not getting better and the mom released a bunch of new videos. This is one mom I wouldn’t mess with Merv!
With Maya Paveza’s permission, she is allowing me to share a Youtube video she released today. I will let the video speak for itself. But it is a horrifying story about one student’s personal journey through hell in Red Clay schools over the past eight years. No student or parent should go through this gut-wrenching hell at all, much less over eight years. I hope Katarina gets the peace and healing she deserves. I will post the other videos in this series. I did the same thing three years ago, albeit in a different format. Only fitting I help another Delaware student tell her story.
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!
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.
At least five students at Freire Charter School in Wilmington were given A’s on their final examinations in exchange for their parents not opting them out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment this spring. One parent was notified by the school that the Delaware Department of Education claimed all schools had to have a participation rate of 100%. When the parent challenged them on the federal and state laws which require 95% participation, the school agreed on that figure. They also told the parent the school was already under the 95% participation rate threshold. All five parents agreed to this deal. The school lured parents who wanted to prevent parents from opting their child out into this “deal” with false pretenses. Furthermore, the students didn’t even take their final exams but they were automatically given A’s because of this.
Can someone please tell me when this madness is going to stop? Aside from all the bullying issues at this “zero tolerance” school, we now have test fraud? How much does the Delaware Department of Education know about this? If they don’t, what are they going to do about it? This is exactly why the veto on House Bill 50 needed to have the override by the Delaware General Assembly. But our legislators were too scared to tick off the “education Governor” and do the right thing for parents. Now we have this going on. No one in Legislative Hall who voted no on the fake “suspension of rules” to bring the override to a vote probably doesn’t care that our schools play games like this. How many situations like this have played out in other Delaware charters or districts? I would call for the Delaware Department of Education and the Delaware State Board of Education to render all scores from the Spring 2016 Smarter Balanced Assessment as invalid due to corruption and fraud. We don’t know how many students and parents were given choices like this. And the results are meaningless.
One parent notified me the only reason she didn’t opt her child out, even though this deal was offered, was because she was choicing their child out of Freire into another district. That district had a requirement for Smarter Balanced results in order for the student to enter their honors program. While I may not agree with that requirement from the other district, it is their right to require it until a law is set in stone for them not to. But Freire proceeded to not have the student take the final exam and gave the student an A for both their Math and English/Language Arts final exams. Also against policy with the Delaware DOE, parents and students were given the scores when they were “encumbered” which means they couldn’t reveal them at that point. I would have to imagine no schools are able to give out this information until the Delaware State Board of Education discusses them at their board meeting in two days. In fact, scores aren’t even going out to
As for Freire, are you trying to send the message that the Smarter Balanced Assessment is more important than a parent’s Constitutional right to opt their child out of the state assessment? That it is okay, from a “zero tolerance” school to trick parents and then deliver false scores on final exams to prevent them from exercising that right? Parents chose to send their child to your school because they believed in your “zero tolerance” edicts. While I don’t agree with zero tolerance, it was also a parent’s right to make that choice. But since you have no interest in applying “zero tolerance” to your own school, I would strongly suggest the Delaware Department of Education Charter School Office immediately conducts a thorough investigation into these allegations through the formal review process. For a school that hasn’t even been open a year and Governor Markell attended your ribbon-cutting ceremony, these egregious actions are unconscionable. This is why these standardized tests bring out the worst in schools.
I would also urge our General Assembly, upon reconvening on January 7th, 2017, to immediately draft legislation in regards to opt out, similar to House Bill 50, and also addressing immediate consequences for schools that use lies and false pretenses toward parents and students have anyone involved in those situations immediately terminated and criminal charges pressed against them. And if a new Governor should veto such legislation, I would expect an immediate override of that veto. Those who voted no on January 14th, 2016: this is on you! Please don’t play political games for political favors when you aren’t the ones who are being toyed with by those who should know better.
If any other Delaware parent out there, at any charter school or district was offered similar “deals” or promises in exchange for not opting your child out, I can be reached at email@example.com and I give you my assurance all will be confidential. Thank you.
At 5pm, Delaware Governor Jack Markell will give the opening remarks at Freire Charter School of Wilmington’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Freire, who last year submitted a modification request to take away their specific interest clause in their enrollment preferences, was known for their “zero tolerance” policy. Of course, zero tolerance didn’t seem to matter to the former Head of School named Bill Porter who was arrested after assaulting a female protester last March. Members of the Midtown Brandywine Neighborhoods Association protested the school moving in the middle of their neighborhood due to changes in traffic patterns.
It is widely rumored that Markell was instrumental in bringing Freire to town. Freire has a few charter schools in Philadelphia, but they are known for counseling out students. At Freire’s formal review last Spring, due to low enrollment, special education was a main concern of the Delaware Department of Education. Freire had a plan for getting out of state services for its students with disabilities. The DOE said nope. As well, Freire never hired a new head of school. Instead the school is run by their academic heads, Paul Ramirez and Felecia Wennell.
Out of all the education events going on this week, Markell picks a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a charter school. Lame-duck indeed…
With an astonishing 653 suspensions, Prestige Academy had the highest suspension rate out of any Delaware charter school. 176 out of the school’s 287 enrolled students for the 2013-2014 school year were suspended, for a 61.3% rating. That means over 3/5ths of the school was suspended at one point in time during this school year. That is insanely high!
Moyer came in second, with a 60.97% suspension rate, 138 out of 227 students, with a total of 338 suspensions. The Delaware Department of Education ordered Moyer to close at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, despite a lawsuit by the City of Wilmington that was dismissed.
This makes the new Freire charter coming to town look like a mere detention! I’m sorry, if you are suspending that many kids at a charter school, maybe the problem isn’t the kids! Sounds like zero tolerance at Prestige and Moyer. Freire is the new charter opening up in the 2015-2016 year that will actually expel kids for bad behavior right off the bat. I’m sure a lot of kids will want to go to that school!
It appears public schools aren’t the only ones in Delaware with unruly students. Campus Community School, a charter school in Dover, has expelled students very fast this school year in what appears to be a renewed zero tolerance for bad behavior. Actions range from fighting down to shooting a piece of paper from a rubber band. This new get tough program comes at a very interesting time.
As a former parent who had a child attend this school, I find this very puzzling. They do have a new head of school as of last January as well as a new student handbook that was approved by their Board of Directors in August. Their board minutes from the same month do speak of a new tiered behavior policy. But charter schools are supposed to save society from all of this, aren’t they?
I have to wonder why this is happening now. My questions are threefold. How many expelled students were or should have been special education and were there any manifestation determination hearings that are legally entitled by law? What were the students DCAS scores last year? How many of these expulsions occurred after the September 30th count and what happens to the funding in these situations?
This is a school that lives by something called Choice Theory. This means every student has the capability of making choices. Under this theory, every single adult also has that ability as well. So I would have to ask what kind of environment fosters a situation where there are so many “disruptive students”? From their website, this is their basic belief:
“We believe that all children can learn, but all learners have different needs, experiences, and ways of learning. We believe that children will rise to expectations if effectively engaged in learning tasks that are meaningful to them. We believe excellent teaching is reflected in high levels of student achievement and positive attitudes.”
For the estimated 12 students who have been expelled, what choices were they given in this process? I first heard this news from a student, which I didn’t see as fact until another independent parent verified this information. I was wondering why they hadn’t posted their board meeting minutes from September even though their websites states they will be available on October 24th. Their new student handbook which would show what their new behavior policies are isn’t even up on their website either. If any parent of these expelled students wants to reach out to me, feel free. I am very curious about what infractions these students committed and if they had previous offenses.
For any school, getting rid of students with low performing expectations could certainly help to close any proficiency gaps. I would hope no school would ever result to mass expulsions to reach these levels.
Is the Delaware Department of Education aware of these expulsions? Is this isolated to just Campus Community or are other charters in Delaware doing this? If that’s the case, John Sadowski down at the DOE must be clocking in a lot of extra hours lately!