Having a Child With a Double Diagnosis

By Guest Blogger Laura Laxton

If you haven’t already, meet Malcolm.

He is 11; finishing up elementary school; loves basketball, baseball and his teen-age sister (much to her long-suffering annoyance); and, as you can tell, has Down syndrome.

We found out about the DS prenatally; however, like every other child that’s ever been born, he kept a few things up his sleeve to spring on us when we least expect it. For example, it was a little more than a year ago that he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, in addition to the DS. And while we weren’t entirely surprised (we pushed for the evaluation because my mom instincts were going off, despite being told behaviors and communication issues were because of the DS), has certainly changed some things.


On one hand, I’ve felt some relief on many levels because now I understand why he does some things or reacts to situations a particular way, and I can reset my expectations where needed. Also, we have a better idea now of how to help him. For example, applied behavioral analysis (ABA) services help tremendously with reducing unwanted behaviors and reinforcing desired ones. That has given us a huge beacon of hope, but the process is not easy.

For one thing, it can be kind of intrusive, because you now have someone with your child – including in your home – for 15-40+ hours each week. And I don’t know about you, but I cannot keep my house in “company-ready” condition for that extended period of time.

(Who am I kidding? My house – on its best day – does not meet what my mother or grandmother would consider “company-ready”! Instead I strive for “welcoming to all.”)

Also, everyone in his life – teachers, after school personnel, family members, extended family members, sitters – has to adhere to the behavior strategies, some of which go against what we’ve been taught we “should” do as parents. It is reeeeeally difficult to not react at all when he hits you or knocks everything off the table, even though we know he is actually communicating frustration at the situation.

And, of course, knowing that he has two challenges added another level of worry. Because that’s what we moms do.

Both children and adults with disabilities are much more likely to suffer abuse than those without disabilities. The statistics vary according to what source and year the data comes from, but across the board it is several times more likely to happen to Malcolm. And if it does, his ability to let someone know is limited. That. Terrifies. Me. As does the possibility of him getting lost, because he cannot tell someone our names and phone numbers in a way they would understand. With him, we are advised to know the bodies of water within a 2-mile radius of places he frequents, because children with autism tend to be drawn to water, so if he goes missing, that is where we should look first. We never thought about that at all with his sister.

Malcolm still requires a lot of hands-on parenting, too. We don’t leave him home alone, and his lack of a sense of danger means we stay vigilant all the time. His sleep patterns tend to be disrupted, so a full night’s sleep is more precious and rare than a unicorn sighting. I thought (hoped? dreamed?) those nights and the bleary days that follow would have ended after the newborn stage, buuuuuuuuuuut no.

No matter how much I do as his mom, I always feel like I haven’t done enough. That if I just did this other thing or method or parenting trick, he would get significantly more benefit, which would lead to a better future. Or if I stayed on top of the latest research for DS and autism, I would know better how to help him. Or if we were involved in this group or that group, or went to conference A instead of conference B, or … The whirling brain cycle doesn’t ever seem to take a break.

Regardless of all that, I still count having the diagnosis and knowing as a positive. Of course, a diagnosis does not define who a child or person is, any more than hair color or whether they hate the taste of cilantro. Neither the Down syndrome nor the autism is what makes Malcolm, Malcolm, and he is the same silly, sweet (except when he’s not), snuggly guy now that he was before. He still loves attending West Forsyth sporting events with his dad, flirting with older females and swinging in the backyard.

As rough as the rough patches may be, we also have more opportunity to slow down, step out of the rat race, and savor what happens in the moment. He reminds me every day that no matter how many aspects of life we can’t control, we can choose how we respond and whether or not to be happy. And that? Is pretty awesome.


Look Sen. Berger, NC is Turning Red (4Ed)!

Phil Berger and Tim Moore can already hear our footsteps and are trying to avoid as much as they can with unfounded words and actions to sequester legislators from having to meet with teachers.

Berger was quoted today on NC Policy Watch with the following words:

“The special interest education lobby will say just about anything to convince you that Republicans hate education and Democrats love it,” Berger wrote. “They do this because their primary motive is to elect Democrats, and to do that they need to mislead you into believing that Republican education policies have harmed our state.”

Then he can explain how these measures have strengthened public schools :

  • Removal of Graduate Degree Pay
  • Removal of Longevity Pay
  • Removal of Career Status
  • Removal of Due- Process Rights
  • School Performance Grading System
  • Bonus Pay Schemes
  • Vouchers
  • Charter Cap Removed
  • Class Size Chaos
  • Removal of Professional Development Funds

(And there are many more.)

It’s laughable to hear Berger say that his policies have helped public education here in NC because thousands of people who actually work in public education are coming straight to him to tell him that he is wrong AS THEY DID LAST MAY.

But for a man who has helped to engineer gerrymandered districts to ensure that the map of NC always stays as “red” as it possibly can be beyond legal limits, it is rather humorously ironic that this map of red is one that he does not want to see.



See you tomorrow Phil as you actually have to discuss a budget that you cannot pass through committee.

Remember That Letter From the State Treasurer to Teachers With the State Insurance Plan?

From our State Treasurer:

“Did You Know?

During 2017, the state spent $3.3 billion on medical and pharmacy benefits. At the same time, costs have increased 5 to 10 percent while funding for the Plan only saw a 4 percent increase. In addition, the state has a $34 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care. This liability is a result of promises that were made for lifetime benefits but no money was ever put aside to pay for that benefit.

What Can You Do?

You can help sustain this benefit by taking control of your medical costs.”

Many teachers and other state employees received those words from Dale Folwell, CPA who is also the State Treasurer for North Carolina. He sent a letter with new ID cards for the state health plan that is contracted through Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

And simply put, his letter was rather insulting, at least to me and to some other teachers.

I could not help to think that in a missive meant to outline benefits to a person whom “North Carolina values,” I was also being told that I literally cost too much, was promised too much, and that it was my job to not be as much of a burden on the state.

And that paragraph under the “Did You Know?” heading actually shows a bit of a contradiction in how the state seems to treat the teaching profession: as prices for services and products go up in most every segment of the economy, the willingness to invest in those very things seems to not be the same.

What if the words associated with benefits were replaced with words associated with public education?

“During 2017, the state spent $3.3 billion on public schools. At the same time, costs have increased 5 to 10 percent while funding for education only saw a 4 percent increase. In addition, the state has a $34 billion deficit in unfunded mandates for public education. This liability is a result of promises that were made for our state’s students but no money was ever put aside to pay for those.”

That’s actually what really happened with public education: watching costs rise to properly educate students and recruit and keep quality teachers without raising our own investments to keep up with those costs.

And the idea that we teachers and government employees must try and cut costs to help the state finance insurance benefits when the state literally is giving massive corporate tax breaks and limiting the very revenues that come to the state to begin with is rather hypocritical.

Maybe Folwell needs to talk to Blue Cross and Blue Shield and get them to better negotiate prices for medical care and not us.

Because telling a bunch of teachers to “save” money on their medical costs to help the state is like telling teachers to teach more students with less money spent per pupil.

Oh, wait.

That’s already happening.

It Isn’t a Teacher Rally; It’s A Rally for Public Education

Here’s that iconic picture from last year’s march and rally on May 16th.


Those were not all teachers. There were parents, community members, students, supporters, local representatives, and other public school advocates.

And on May 1st, that sea of red going flowing through the streets of Raleigh will have those same people in it who make public education really work – teachers from traditional and charter schools, students, administrators and:

  • Teacher Assistants
  • Administrative Assistants
  • Guidance Counselors
  • Media Assistants
  • Interpreters
  • Therapists – speech, occupational, physical
  • Community Coaches
  • Data Control and Clerks
  • Janitors
  • Maintenance
  • Bus Drivers and Transportation
  • Food Services
  • Crossing Guards
  • Nurses
  • PTSA
  • Other Volunteers
  • Community supporters

And the list goes on…

But it’s all about the students.

Numbers and Perspectives Concerning NC Public Education – Again, Why May 1st is Important

Every Monday, NC Policy Watch does a segment called “Monday Numbers.”

This week’s was on public education with a list compiled by Clayton Henkel. And while this post does list the very numbers that Henkel reports (and this writer is thankful for those numbers), it might be worthwhile to add a couple of other points of information to maybe lend a little more weight.

  • 93,411 – the number of North Carolina public school teachers for the current fiscal year (Source: DPI) .
    Also consider the number of classified staff, administration, and other support personnel in these numbers and then take a look at the downward trend of teacher candidates in our state’s schools of education.
  • $53,975 – the average teacher salary in North Carolina this school year (NEA).
    Remember that this includes local supplements that the state does not fund or bonuses for stigmatizing standardized tests. And the current salry scale cannot keep this average in the future.
  • $57, 137 – the average teacher salary in Georgia this school year.
    Georgia still pays for graduate degree obtainment. In fact, the give a sizable raise for each graduate degree that one earns – Master’s, Ed.S., Ed.D., Ph.D.
  • $60,462 – the national average teacher salary in 2017-18 (Source: NEA).
    After all of those historic raises, NC is still over $6,000 behind the national average.
  • $37,631 – average starting salary for a teacher in North Carolina (Ibid).
    Take a look at what the the ending salary will be for those new teachers.
  • $39,249 – average starting teacher salary in the U.S.
    Again, after all of those historic raises, NC is still over $6,000 behind the national average.
  • 29th – North Carolina’s national ranking for teacher compensation.
    This is improving, but will go down when veteran teachers who still have graduate degree pay and NBCT certification start retiring or leaving the profession.
  • 4 – the number of times over the last ten years that teachers and state employees received no raise whatsoever (2009-10, 10-11, 11-12 and 2013-14).
    Some political pundits scream that two of these years were under the “Democrats.” Maybe looking at when the Great Recession was hurting everyone in the state.
  • 9.1 – the percentage increase teachers would see over two years under Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed budget.
    And that increase is more evenly spread out among all teachers – even veteran ones.
  • $125 – the amount the House two-year spending plan would provide for teachers to purchase classroom supplies.
    Wait, didn’t Mark Johnson say that we were going to have $400 because teachers really “needed” it?
  • 36 – the percentage of teachers in a national poll who say they spent between $251 and $500 annually on classroom supplies (Source: National Center for Education Statistics).
    Lower that expenditure number to $125 or even $200 and see what the percentage of teachers is.
  • -$21 – the amount by which average, inflation-adjusted weekly wages of U.S. public school teachers decreased between 1996 and 2018 (Source: Economic Policy Institute: The teacher weekly wage penalty).
    That’s a weekly reoccurring loss over the course of 23 years.
  • +$323 – the amount by which average weekly wage for college graduates in other professions rose over the same period (Ibid).
    -21 compared to +323.
  • 8.09% – the overall statewide attrition rate of North Carolina public school teachers in the 2017-18 school year (Source: DPI).
    And take into consideration how many fewer future teachers we have in our schools of education.
  • 7.25% – the attrition rate for experienced, licensed teachers (Ibid).
    That’s another way of saying how quickly veteran teachers are leaving the profession.
  • 5%  – pay raise that May 1 rally attendees are seeking for all non-certified public school staff.
    Because they deserve it.
  • 5% – cost of living hike that rally attendees are seeking for retirees.
    Because they deserve it.
  • $15 – hourly wage attendees are seeking for custodians and other essential school personnel who have not seen wages increase in recent years.
    Because they deserve it.
  • $11.41 – current average hourly wage for a school custodian in Guilford County (Source: Indeed.com).
    Take a look at what a living wage for that person would be in NC.
  • $18,094 – average annual pay for a school custodian in North Carolina (Source: Ziprecruiter).
    Take a look at what a living wage for that person would be in NC.
  • $11,934 – average national per-pupil spending last year according to the NEA.
  • $9,528 – average amount North Carolina spent.
  • 39th – North Carolina’s national rank for per-pupil spending.
    Those numbers are not flattering.
  • 1:378 – current counselor-to-student ratio in North Carolina.
  • 1:1,073 – current nurse-to-student ratio.
  • 1,556,141 – the total average daily membership of students attending North Carolina schools for the 2018-19 school year.
    Those numbers are not flattering.
  • 7 – number of days since Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger labeled the NCAE’s Day of Action a “far-left strike.”
    Everyone whose last name is not Koch is “far-left” of Berger.
  • 2 – number of days until thousands of teachers and public school advocates come to Raleigh to make their voices heard.
    Voices will be heard every day.
  • 70 – percentage of the state’s voters – including more than half of Republicans — who say they support teachers taking the day off to share concerns with lawmakers (Source: Public Policy Polling).
    Seems the court of public opinion agrees with teachers.



From “Going Nuclear” to “Going Into Hiding” – Sen. Phil Berger’s Avoidance in Confronting Public School Teachers

After thousands of teachers and education advocates marched on Raleigh on May 16, 2018 calling for better treatment of public schools, the GOP super-majority invoked what is akin to a “nuclear” option in passing its budget. Rather than allowing for debate on matters of money from elected representatives and the opportunity of amendments, Phil Berger and Tim Moore had the budget voted on in committee.

It is commonly speculated that this maneuver was exercised because of last year’s teacher rally and to avert dialogue that would force them to show their hypocrisy on the treatment of teachers and traditional public schools.

That budget was released on Monday, May 28th at approximately 9:00 on a federal holiday that honored fallen soldiers who died fighting for the freedom of Americans to have a democratic process preside over matters of state in a state that is considered one of the most military friendly in the nation.

Two-hundred and sixty-seven pages that did little to address what needs so much to be addressed.

That budget

  • Provided more tax cuts for corporations and wealthy people.
  • Teacher Pay was raised in an uneven distribution and veteran teachers were ignored.
  • Had the principal pay plan altered into one that gave “bonuses.”
  • Allowed localities to now use property taxes to help fund charter schools.
  • Set up a DonorsChoose.org contribution  for select Charlotte / Mecklenburg Schools.
  • Allowed the ISD to run schools if it sees fit.
  • Extended the virtual charter schools pilot from four years to eight.
  • Even financed a charter school.

And now that another march and rally is coming this May 1st, Berger again is being reactive and belligerent toward public school teachers and education advocates – he’s having the General Assembly spend the day talking over the budget and limiting the availability of legislators to meet with constituents who have come to Raleigh.

Seems that he and his cronies will not be available for very long (if at all) to talk to teachers. He’s going to hide in his own building.

Teachers scare so many people in Raleigh, especially Phil Berger. Going “nuclear” or “going into hiding “seems to go hand in hand with his copious releasing of statements aimed to paint everyone involved with May 1st as the enemy and himself as the victim.

If only Berger confronted those he supposedly represents like teachers confront he problems in public education, then there might be reason to take his words seriously.





About Mark Johnson’s Comments on The NC House Education Budget Proposals

Remember when Mark Johnson ran on a platform of giving more local school systems more control over how they ran their schools?

The most recent budget proposals from the NC House seems to give a lot of more “state control of local systems,” especially in how they are to give personal leave to teachers who ask for it even though they already earned through their service.

Think of the unfunded mandates that the state gives to local LEA’s. Most LEA’s are having to contribute more to the health benefits and retirement for state employees. There are the local supplements that LEA’s solely provide, but the state uses to help brag about average teacher pay. And now LEA’s are having to dish out more money to charter schools in their districts that they have no control over.

And Johnson says that he likes the budget proposals.


“While we are only at the beginning of the process, I am pleased to see so many of our #NC2030 top priorities in the House education budget bill. I thank the members of the NC House for their support. This plan continues the legislature’s focus on K-12 education, with substantial funding increases for classroom supplies, textbooks and digital resources, and school-safety grants providing mental-health supports and school safety resources. We have more work to do, but we are on the right track.”

I encourage every public school advocate to read that budget proposal from the House.

Especially looking at what is included concerning the voucher system which, if this budget has its way, would create an even less transparent voucher system.



About What Phil Berger Said Concerning About School Nurses, Psychologists, and Counselors (And Remembering HB2)

Remember this quote from Lt. Gov. Dan Forest from 2016 when he was championing HB2, the bathroom bill?

“If our action in keeping men out of women’s bathrooms and showers protected the life of just one child or one woman from being molested or assaulted, then it was worth it. North Carolina will never put a price tag on the value of our children. They are precious and priceless.” – Lt. Gov. Dan Forest on April 5th, 2016 concerning HB2 and PayPal’s announcement to not expand in Charlotte.

Sen. Phil Berger defended that bill just as hard as Forest did and Berger sure as hell wants Forest to be the next governor of this state because we all know that Dan Forest is running for governor. He’s only been campaigning since Roy Cooper took office.

Look at that statement again, especially the last part: “North Carolina will never put a price tag on the value of our children. They are precious and priceless.”

Does Berger believe the same thing? Only if it suits his political ambitions.

He posted this official statement on April 26th.

berger1berger tweetBerger3Berger4

Did Berger just put a price tag on our students’ lives?

Yep. Based on “averages.”

The numbers of students committing suicide, experiencing mental health issues, dealing with depression and other maladies is skyrocketing.

And Berger issues this statement when he literally championed a bill to protect students at high costs against a nonexistent danger with HB2.

Even the Public School Forum called out Berger on this one.


Attending the funeral of a former student who seems to have his/her whole life to look forward to is one too many. Yes, there are tragic events that occur, but there are also other forces at work in the lives of many of our students that while unseen to the naked eye could be confronted to give the possibility of renewal and reclamation – if we are willing to invest more in our kids.

Berger just told you what he is willing to do.


Comparing 5/16/18 to 5/1/19 – A Calculated Attempt by the NCGA to Keep Teachers From Rallying for Public Schools?

As of this moment, there are 30 school districts that have closed for May 1st in response to teachers asking for personal leave to attend a rally in Raleigh.


And since the above tweet from the N&O’s education reporter, two more charter schools have announced they will be closing that day as well. That’s a total of 30 school districts and four charter schools representing a little over half of the public school students in the entire state of North Carolina.

The latest map from Red4EdNC.com shows those districts (remember some of those LEA’s are city systems) that are closing in red.


The pink shows counties that have teachers who are planning to come to Raleigh but whose systems are not closing.

In comparing the timing and the number of systems that have closed so far this year for the May rally to the same number of school systems for last year’s rally, there are some differences. The following data table is compliments of Lisa Gerardi of the Durham Association of Educators.

day of action

If you notice that in 2018, the numbers were slow to grow then there seemed to be a domino effect and a large spike in system closures in the days before the rally.

This year the number of systems to close seems to have been a steady increase, but the overall number of system closures now trails what happened last year at the same time before the actual rally. In fact, in the six days prior to the May 16th rally, 16 more districts closed. What additional systems might close this year is yet to be seen.

Also interesting (as Gerardi explains) is the number of systems who closed last year but are not closing this year.

  1. Alamance Burlington
  2. Alexander County
  3. Asheboro City
  4. Buncombe County
  5. Caldwell County
  6. Gaston County
  7. Granville County
  8. Onslow County
  9. Pender County
  10. Robeson County
  11. Rowan Salisbury
  12. Stanly County
  13. Union County
  14. Warren County
  15. Wayne County

Two systems that have announced they will close this year did not last year: Weldon City and Bertie County.

Back to those 15 county/city systems that closed last year but did not close this year – 14 of them are solidly red according to the 2018 presidential elections (Buncombe County does not include Asheville City Schools, which is heavily blue in that category).


It is interesting to note that through social media and direct contacts some districts have been actively trying to keep teachers from leaving in high numbers to demonstrate in Raleigh by allowing maybe two teachers from each school to possibly attend (at most). Some teachers have even reported that they have had personal leave requests denied in the weeks before the rally by principals at schools in the very systems that closed last year for the rally.

Seems more than coincidental. Justin Parmenter wrote about this very subject in one of the posts on his blog Notes From the Chalkboard.

“In numerous counties, superintendents and school boards are offering to ‘facilitate’ delegations of teachers going to Raleigh to advocate.  Union County Public Schools, for example, is congratulating itself as a ‘forward thinking’ school district for being on the front lines of fighting for good education policy and encouraging teacher leadership by allowing teachers from each school to be in Raleigh on May 1 (while ensuring schools stay open that day). 

Don’t get it twisted.  

These districts are doing everything they can to keep teachers from leading. What they’re after in this case is the appearance of supporting teachers, but their premise is that the terms must always be dictated from the top down rather than through a powerful movement created by everyday teachers like you and me.  Their goal from the very beginning this year has been to do whatever it takes to keep schools open on May 1. Their goal has been to make sure that teachers do not have the power.”

It would be very interesting to see the party affiliation of the NCGA representatives that serve those counties and have a crystal ball into their possible roles in the recent budget lines items concerning personal leave released on April 26 to curb another rally from taking place by teachers.

Parmenter specifically mentions Union County, whose representative in the House chamber is Craig Horn. He has been very vocal about not wanting teachers to rally. He was recently called upon to offer a quote in a News & Observer report from April 11,

But Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and co-chairman of the House Education Committee, said NCAE is running the risk of wearing people out with yet another mass protest.

“I think a repeat of last year is counterproductive,” Horn said in an interview. “They’re taking a chance of not only alienating legislators who’ve traditionally supporting them. They’re also taking a chance of alienating the public.”

Makes one wonder if there has been a plan to keep teachers from being able to come together to demonstrate.

Actually, it seems more than likely.







Mark Johnson’s Fuzzy Math On His Latest “Facts”

When Mark Johnson released his latest attempt at presenting himself and those who control him in a favorable light, he intentionally created a scenario that wasn’t really true.



Notice that he used the word “median” multiple times and compared averages to medians in a couple of places.

To be clear, “median” and “average” are two different calculations.

Lauren Fox, the Senior Policy Director at The NC Forum, gave a great explanation of how the intermixing of medians and averages can create a rather muddy version of what Mark Johnson might consider the truth, but is really an attempt at spin.

She actually went into that NC School Finances tool. Here’s what she tweeted yesterday and allowed to be posted on this blog:


Seems that Johnson is using the medians as the means to a spun end.

Oh, and take a look at that NC School Finances website:


That web address is https://gdacreporting.ondemand.sas.com/srcfinance/index.

Yep, it’s SAS.