Something Those Lawmakers in Raleigh Fail to See About Our Schools

I teach in a school of nearly 2400 students and am completing my twelfth year there.

My daughter is about to finish her freshman year. She lets me ride to school with her because it makes me cool. I thank her everyday for that.

Of course I follow our school’s sports teams. It is a source of pride for our school, our community, but more importantly, those are my students out there competing and learning about teamwork and perseverance.

But I also go to games to see other students support their peers, their friends, their siblings, their neighbors, their fellow Titans. And I went to one last night. We won. I looked forward to reading about it in the paper the next day.

My family gets an actual copy of the Winston-Salem Journal every day. It’s our newspaper. Journalism is important to us. It supports the community.

And a particular clause from the lead sports story caught my eye this morning (http://www.journalnow.com/sports/prepzone/west-forsyth-girls-soccer-beats-myers-park-in-ot-advances/article_b8b65ee9-e569-541b-b64e-82f0b738d139.html) :

“who was mobbed on the field after the game by the large student section in attendance” 

The game was a girls soccer game, specifically a fourth round state playoff game against a team that had surrendered only three goals the entire year up to that game and had only lost one time all year.

Aside from the high level of play on the field, the amount of students at the game was amazing.  The cheering, the chanting, the urging, the encouragement. A victory in overtime.

Students jumping on the field to celebrate the accomplishment of a team representing a school.

I wish some folks in Raleigh could have seen that and tried to measure what that could actually mean.

But there was so much more involved.

What if I told you the number of AP tests taken by the ladies on the team that just won a chance to play in the final four of the state?

What if I told you the amount of academic scholarship money the seniors on that team had won already?

What if I told you that some of the students who rushed the field do not even play a sport but are involved in other ways at school that are just as celebrated?

What if I told you that 500 yards away in the Performing Arts Center a dance concert was being performed at the same time that included over 350 students dancing to a sold-out theater of 800 where just as many students were attending supporting their peers and friends as parents and family members?

What if I told you that at that very moment the boys track and field team was literally finishing winning their first ever state championship in Greensboro by the slimmest of margins?

What if I told you that one of the head coaches of the state championship track team is also the head of the art department that consistently has multiple students win gold key awards each year? What if I told you that the other head coach was our school’s teacher of the year? Or that one of the assistant coaches is a North Carolina Teaching Fellow? Or that the other assistant coach works with special needs students?

What if I told you that the head girls soccer coach on the day of the third round playoff game turned in all of his materials for National Board Certification, one of the more rigorous processes a teacher can undergo? His assistant happens to be the AP Calculus teacher and his students just took their exam a few days ago. Some were on that soccer field. The other assistant coach happens to have a son in one of my AP classes.

And earlier that day before the soccer game, I was putting together some background templates for the literary magazine for this year that will include the best art and literary work of our students. And like every other year, that track coach will send me amazing work, except his finger will be heavier with a new ring.

And after I post this, I will read a draft of an article by a student writing for the school newspaper about how Governor’s School has been defunded in the new NC Senate budget. She went to Governor’s School this past summer. She’s also the editor of the school newspaper.

She was also on that soccer field last night.

As a player.

One of two on the team who went to Governor’s School.

And by the way, my daughter was in that dance concert that occurred at the same time as the soccer game.

But I saw it Wednesday. They “packed the house” for three nights in a row.

Measure that Raleigh.

immeasurable

Go Titans.

 

 

Renounce, Forest! Renounce! – An Open Letter to Dan Forest about His Slogan

Dear Lt. Gov. Forest,

On my way to and from the public school where I teach, I see collections of your campaign signs grouped together at certain interchanges that cleverly repeat a line made famous by the Oscar Award winning film Forrest Gump – “Run, Forrest! Run!”

forest1

Take away an “r” and you have a clever campaign slogan. But it is not accurate. Nor is it appropriate given the context of both the movie and your actions.

So I want to suggest some possible, more accurate, slogans.

“Fund, Forest! Fund!”

Every time I see your signs I am reminded of the movie Forrest Gump because Forrest needed special attention in school as he was “differently-abled.” I believe your championing of charter schools and of vouchers would be as hard for Forrest’s mother (although fictional) as it is for me – a parent, voter, and teacher.

My wife and I have two children, one of whom has Trisomy 21, commonly known as Down Syndrome. Like any concerned parents of a child with special needs, we investigated all possible avenues for his early education. We were fortunate that a family member was willing to pay for tuition at any institution in the area if it meant that our son could have the best start to his academic journey, one which will probably take different routes than typical children.

No private school in our area would take him. They said that they did not have the resources. They exercised a freedom because they felt that they could not be accountable for his progress. They took security in knowing that they could choose whom to be accountable for when it comes to academic achievement.

Even the charter schools that existed would not take him. None were prepared to do so. So we sent him to his neighborhood public school.

And he has thrived. Why? Teachers. Teachers who loved him and wanted him to succeed before they even met him. They did not choose to have him as a student; they already wanted to have him as a student. But they are having a harder time being able to secure resources because you and others are intent on the use of vouchers and charter schools that siphon tax-payer money away from traditional schools which are still held accountable for his progress. Even the academic endowment fund you created is keeping money from being used for kids like Forrest Gump and like mine.

“Repeal, Forest! Repeal”

Your ardent support of HB2 has been very apparent since the divisive law came into effect. By throwing out a red herring of an emotional appeal, you have successfully helped North Carolina become a state of regression.

You said following PayPal’s announcement not to expand in NC back in April,

“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.”

That’s a bold statement in defense of our women and children.

Since then, North Carolina has lost millions of dollars in lost revenue and it will only get worse as the NCAA and the ACC have removed championship games from our state’s venues. That means that we won’t be able to say “Run, Athletes! Run!” when championship season comes around. It also means that we won’t be able to get the “Revenues, Forest! Revenues!”

“Renounce, Forest! Renounce!”

In July, you spoke to a loud crowd in Raleigh in support of Trump when he was campaigning here. Considering that your support for HB2 has hinged on protecting women and children in bathrooms and presumably locker rooms, it would seem odd that you still would support Trump given his comments on a released tape concerning “locker-room” talk that literally speaks of sexually assaulting women.

If you need to review Trump’s “locker-room” words, you can hear them on this link.

https://youtu.be/IVjlBZpyz4c

Ironically, it seems that if you are so intent on saving women and children from predation as you have said in the past, you would renounce your endorsement of a man who clearly testifies to committing those actions. Either that, or you are not really sincere in your vow to protect women and children.

As Trump is calling all of the republicans “hypocrites” for renouncing his candidacy in the wake of his latest scandal, I believe it would be hypocritical of you to not speak out against him considering that you have led a crusade for the very people Trump brags about assaulting.

“Grammar, Forest! Grammar!”

Your campaign slogan as it is written on the tour bus and your signs is actually a grammatical error because you are interrupting an imperative sentence and then creating a fused sentence with yet another imperative. There is a natural pause that is needed when you insert the name “Forest” after the first verb, hence the need for a comma. You then have another imperative sentence following that needs to be separated as an independent clause, therefore the need for ending punctuation like a period or exclamation point.

Since you are on the State Board of Education, it might set a good example to use good grammar, usage, (Oxford comma emphasized) and mechanics in all communications.

“Revise, Forest! Revise!”

But while grammar is important to make sure what you say is communicated well, you might want to consider revising what you say because the content in this case is more important than the punctuation. And the content of your words and actions speak very loudly.

forest2

To The Wake County School Board – “Who do You Serve?”

When you are the parent of a child with special needs, you tend to become a tad bit more hyper-vigilant when it comes to the laws surrounding the services  guarentted by law for children like mine.

You also become very cognizant of what other families of children with special needs encounter and sometimes have to confront and fight in order to ensure that the law is being followed. And then you read  story like this from the Raleigh News & Observer entitled “Wake County debates promotion policy for special-needs students”.

Take a read – http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/wake-ed-blog/article102310147.html.

But it is in the comments section that needs the attention. In it a parent of a child with special needs posted an open letter.

It is the best open letter I have read in quite a while. And I have run across a lot of them.

It is devastatingly poignant, appropriately direct, and incredibly relevant. I asked the writer, Mary Beth Ainsworth, if I could repost here and she graciously said yes.

Simply put – you need to read this.

 

Dear Sitting School Board Members,

I am writing with grave concerns over the article published by the News and Observer this morning that shows such open, blatant and intentional discrimination against children with disabilities in the Wake County School System. I and many other parents in the community are confused as to who it actually is that you work for and support, because articles like this make it painfully clear that you sure as hell don’t serve the students.

From the very beginning of the article, “The Wake County school system is trying to play it safe by not mandating that school staff do more than what’s required by law to serve and promote special education students.”
For those of you who are under the impression that as a county you even come close to meeting the minimum requirements of the law as it is, you are grossly misinformed or blissfully ignorant of reality. The Wake County special education program is an absolute atrocity and if you would listen and respond to the parents and constituents in your respective districts then you would be aware of that. So I ask again, who do you serve?

Next in the article, “School administrators wanted to make sure the new policy doesn’t mandate in writing that schools do more than what’s required by law for students with disabilities.”
So this “policy” is to benefit school administrators? It certainly does nothing for the students or the teachers. And the leadership of your administrators and your leadership as the school board is exactly why the special education program is so compromised and corrupted in Wake County. Since when did doing more than what’s required become something to oppress and avoid? And again, Wake County does NOT meet the minimum law requirements as it is. You need to be informed on the status of these programs before you pass policies that you do not understand or cannot comprehend the full impact of. This is going to hurt students with disabilities categorically. And if you understand that and you still support these changes, I ask again, who do you serve?

“It on average costs more to educate special needs students and the fights between families and school officials over what services are appropriate can get intense.”
The school district gets extra funding from both federal, state and county budgets for special education. The fact that those funds are misused and misappropriated is not the fault of the students. In fact, that would be the fault of poor oversight of the school board. And yes, the fights over what is appropriate can get intense. That is because we as families can have a federal mandate in writing that Wake County provide services as required under law to our child, and Wake County will spend a year in litigation fighting that same federal mandate. Does this benefit the child? No. Does this benefit the school system? No. Does this benefit taxpayers? No. You spent $1.3 million dollars last school year on a law firm that defends special education violations. Imagine if you spent that money on the actual education of children. But since you don’t, I ask again, who do you serve?

“All students will be held to the same promotion standards, with appropriate support and modifications provided as required by law.” Since none of you have taken the time to educate yourself on the law, this is considered a blanket policy which will most certainly be found to violate federal law by the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. It very specifically removes the individual component required under IDEA. Of course your attorneys would not advise you on that because, again, they are paid over a million dollars a year defending these types of atrocities in court. What benefit would they have if the county followed the law? How would they be paid? You have no concept of appropriate support and modifications and again, Wake County already fails to abide by the law on a massive scale. How does this help the students with disabilities? This is such blatant discrimination and open disregard for a child’s right to education that I am honestly shocked you so openly back this. Who is it that you serve?

“Karen Hamilton, assistant superintendent for special education services, responded that staff wants to execute the law.” Have you looked into the dispersion of special education programs throughout the county? Have you looked into why some kids have to travel an hour or more to get to school? Karen Hamilton has openly stated that she allocates special education funding based on which principals she gets along with best – which all seem to sit on one side of the county. That is complete opposite of following the law and if fact is further evidence of misappropriation of special education funds. If you listened to your parents, if you responded to your constituents, if you performed your due diligence in investigating special needs allegations then you would be aware of these issues. Who do you serve?

Hamilton said, “I think if we communicate more than that, then the district will be held to a standard of more than that.”
God forbid.

“Jonathan Blumberg, the school board’s attorney, said he understood where Martin was coming from but said that special education law is highly regulated.”Again, their firm made $1.3 million dollars last year which was a $200K increase from the previous school year. The only interest the law firm has is in making money. They are notorious for fighting children with disabilities to prevent them from receiving a Free Appropriate Public Education. Why would the law firm actually put forth information to benefit the students? If the students were in fact protected by the law, then how else would this law firm make $1.3 million from the Wake County school system? On that note, where exactly is that covered in the budget? You don’t provide a line item for that in your “transparent” budget. I as a taxpayer am pissed that millions of dollars are spent to deny hundreds of dollars in services. Who is it that you work for? Who is it that you serve?

“When he was a principal, Benton said he hated to do it but would tell parents they tried to do everything that was reasonably possible to help their children.”
How is this proposed policy change doing everything reasonably possible to help? It is actually an attempt to do less than the minimum required. Who do you serve?

“It’s a three way-street. There’s the school, the parent and the student. If even one of those three legs are not upholding their part it’s going to fail.”
Yes! This is actually a true statement. The irony is that you are failing to recognize or understand that the failing leg is the school system. You have phenomenal teachers, phenomenal aids, phenomenal therapists, phenomenal parents and phenomenal students. But making ignorant, uninformed and detrimental decisions for all of those phenomenal people are administrators far removed from the classroom and the students. If you pass this policy, you are signing your name to an agreement to fail our children with disabilities. When is the last time you were in a special needs classroom? When is the last time you spoke with a special needs family? When is the last time you observed all of the amazing things a special needs student can do? I’m truly asking. Why are you sitting on the school board? Who do you serve?

“I don’t believe there’s a single person in schools that would contemplate doing less than what’s required,” Fletcher said. “As I board, I don’t believe that we can obligate them to do more than required by law, which is continuously reinterpreted by the federal regulators.”
Mr. Fletcher, you have been on numerous emails that I have sent you where I have named multiple individuals in the school system who are intentionally circumventing federal law, committing numerous ethics violations and consistently do less than what’s required but you have failed to respond to even one of those emails. While I live in Mr. Benton’s district, my son attends school in your district. And you both have done literally nothing in regards to the multiple allegations that have been brought forth. You need to remove the rose colored glasses, Mr. Fletcher, and take leadership and accountability along with the rest of the school board that your special education administration and program is seriously corrupted. The law is not continuously reinterpreted, but new protections are specifically outlined to close loopholes because school districts such as Wake County exploit less specific wording to discriminate against children with disabilities. So why such a strong, hard war on our children with special needs? Who are you protecting? Who are you serving?

Bravo, Mary Beth Ainsworth. Bravo!

 

Houston Says We Have a Problem

This might be one of the most horrific things that I have ever read concerning how a state’s public education system handles its special education initiatives.

It comes from the Houston Chronicle. It is entitled “Denied: How Texas keeps tens of thousands of children out of special education”. It is written by Brian M. Rosenthal.

It’s devastating.

It’s gut wrenching.

It’s deflating.

It’s heart breaking.

It’s the worst fear for a parent of a child with special needs.

And I want you to read it. All of it. And yes, it’s long. But it is one of the best pieces of journalistic investigation I have ever come across.

Here it is – http://www.houstonchronicle.com/denied/.

I am a parent of a child with special needs, specifically Down Syndrome and I could not even imagine what these parents may be going through because the state of Texas put a price tag on their students and then swept them under a bureaucratic rug.

This is the state that gave us No Child Left Behind.

This is the state that literally rules what goes into textbooks for a greater portion of the middle section of the country.

This is the state that came to North Carolina and recruited teachers knowing that salary was a big issue for our teachers.

And I can’t help but think is this happening in other states?