Tuesday, September 27, 2022

A Bad Idea who's time has NOT come

 A Bad Idea whose time has not come


What goes around comes around and the same can be said for a really bad idea.  Several school districts in Maryland are talking about doing virtual instruction on some snow days.   That is a bad idea on so many levels.

First and foremost, in Maryland the call to close schools for snow usually comes around 5 a.m. on the day of the closing.  Weather forecasts are so unreliable that school districts cannot count on the accumulations being predicted until the snow actually begins to fall.

Doing virtual school instead of closing will require districts to make the call the night before so that teachers can prepare and families can make child care preparation.  Given the vagaries of the forecasts in these parts, that is going to mean a few days going virtual for snow that never falls.   If school systems wait until the morning of the event, there is going to be a lot of scrambling by teachers to prepare and a lot of Chromebooks to get out the door.

Districts are also complaining about the very large number of teachers who have retired or just are getting out of the profession.  So it seems pretty counter-productive to drop perks of the job when teachers are seeing fewer and fewer of them.  There are few things more delightful about teaching than waking up to a snow day closing where you can have fun with your kids or do one of those chores that have been reserved for snow days.

And then there are the kids.   We always think about them last.  We already know that during the pandemic lots of kids did not tune in to virtual teaching on a regular basis.  A snow day is an entitlement of winter.   It’s going to be very tough to get students to pay attention to a snow day lesson that you know is going to be a lesson that is kept in storage to be pulled out in an emergency and is probably boring and all review.   Sort of like what teachers leave in their desk drawers for last minute substitutes to use.

Snow days are one of the gifts of winter.  School districts should not pull the plug on them.  Once the winter holidays are over, and we move into those short bleak gray days, surely we should not be deprived of a few scattered days of happiness here and there.

Virtual days instead of snow days!!!   Scrooge needs to be visited by another ghost.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

It's a body in the room

 It’s a body in the room


Many school districts started the school year with unfilled position.  They tried using substitutes, admin staff, even other school professionals.  Vacancies were still there.  So, they went in a very different way.

The districts entered into agreements with contract agencies to get rent-a-teachers.   These people are paid by the school system but there are “owned” by the contract agency that gets a commission from the district or a cut from the teacher’s pay.   These rent-a-teachers are paid extremely well, usually in the six figures. Some of them are not even certified.  They are not really school district employees so they do not receive benefits. The school districts argue that since these people do not receive benefits their salaries are commensurate with what school employees are getting.

Staff teachers do not see it that way.  From their perspective, they have bargained for higher salaries, been told there was no money and now these strangers are getting lots more money.

To rub even more salt into the wound, rent-a-teachers do not need to attend staff meetings, after school meetings, professional development meetings or anything else besides being a body in the room.

There is lots of downside to this emergency plan.   It further destroys staff morale who are not comfortable with strangers coming in and making lots more money.  The people who come in have little to no commitment to the students or to the school district.  They are in essence, temp workers.   School districts cannot hire them as full-time staff.

They are not familiar with the curriculum.  Since they do not need to attend any professional development, they do not know the course requirements or what came before and what is coming next.

And the kids know they are not “real teachers”.   How do the kids know?  They know because they know who belongs and who doesn’t.

All-in-all how do students benefit from this plan?   How do school employees feel about this plan?  

So, cui bono? Who benefits?  The school district gets to have a body in the room.  And that says it all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Who's driving the bus?

 Who’s Driving the Bus?


The problem is fewer and fewer people are driving the bus.   There is as much a shortage of school bus drivers as there is a shortage of teachers.   So what’s a school system going to do?

Obviously, routes are going to be combined and that means longer rides for kids.   When possible, more students will be made to walk to school if they live within the limits.

And there are some instances where transportation is being cut in ways that are unlawful.   For children with disabilities who have an individual education plan or IEP, transportation is a related service that must be delivered.  The courts have long ruled that to offer a child an educational program but then not provide transportation- well, that is not a true offer.

Some systems have tried to get around that requirement by telling parents that the system will pay milage if the parents will transport.   Once again that is not a valid offer if the parents do not have the means whether because of other obligations like work or they do not have a car. 

Now there is another illegal operation that has slipped into place.  Some school districts are running busses on multiple schedules which could mean that children with special needs are routinely arriving 1-1.5 hours late for school.  This delayed arrival has multiple problems only one of which is illegal.   A child’s IEP specifically states the number of hours the child will receive special education.  If a student’s bus is going to arrive an hour or so late every day, that child is going to lose five hours a week of special education and related services.  It is a clear violation of the IEP which is a contract for service.   There is further loss to the child besides the hour or so of instruction.   Kids arriving routinely after school has started miss out on the morning organizational routine.  For kids with some disabilities that delay puts the entire rest of the day out of synch.   They never catch up so it is not just the hour or so the students are losing but that could also impact the remaining 5 hours of the day.

Families do not have to accept this loss of instruction.  The school system will say they cannot help the shortage of bus drivers.  That may well be true, but the reality is that children with disabilities have a LEGAL right to transportation while for the rest of the plain kids that transportation is a matter of convenience.   In fact, in some school districts with adequate public transportation, students are given tokens and use that public transportation.   So school busses are a privilege for plain kids but a requirement for students with disabilities.

Families do NOT need to accept the lack of appropriate transportation provided by the school district.   Transportation that is designed to be delayed and or is not provided is a violation of the contract provided by the IEP.   Families have the right and should file a complaint with both the school district and with the state department of education which is tasked with making sure local districts deliver on the requirements of federal and state law.

In the end, it is the child’s families who are driving the bus and those families need to get up and get in the drivers’ seat.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Did you know?

 Did You Know?


That a 2001 federal statue known as the “educational malpractice doctrine”, immunizes school boards from being sued for failing to provide a quality education for the children in its district.  Yep, school districts can do a poor job of educating kids and they are protected. Unless of course, they lose an election in a district where school board members are elected.

Up until now, it had been assumed that this doctrine also protected school boards from a lawsuit involving negligent supervision.   Not so, said the Maryland Court of Appeals in an unanimous ruling.  Parents of a child in a Dorchester County middle school alleged that the school failed to control unruly students and as a consequence their daughter suffered multiple concussions.  

A County Circuit judge said the school district was protected from such a law suit by the educational malpractice doctrine.  The Intermediate Court of Appeals agreed.

Nope, said the State’s highest court.  It said that the act prevented teachers from being held financially liable for their actions but does not protect them from being sued and found to be negligent in their duties.

The Court ruling supersedes the federal statute.

The Court of Appeals added that school boards cannot use the educational malpractice doctrine to defend themselves against negligent supervision claims.  The Court said that the family’s suit was about supervision of students and not about educational programs or academic decisions; therefore, the prohibition against educational practice did not apply in this instance.  The Court further limited the scope of the educational malpractice doctrine to curriculum  and related matters.   The Court said that judges do not serve as boards of education but do deal with matters of negligence. 

In this case, the teachers and the school board failed to protect the child from physical and verbal assault by at least six students resulting in two concussions.

In an era of limited suspensions, children’s safety and protection should not need families to go to court.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Teaching is for artists

 Teaching is for “artists”?


There is a great shortage of teachers.  That is not news.   School systems are looking everywhere for people who are willing to be teachers.  Some states are recruiting retired military folks. (Here’s looking at you Florida.) Will these ex-military people make good teachers?   Some very well might.  And the truth is that there are a certain number of traditionally trained individuals who do not make good teachers and in spite of the shortage should not be in a classroom.

Teaching is both an art and a science.   The science part of teaching can be taught to someone relatively easily.  There are specific ways to structure a lesson so that most of the children will achieve the objective.  There are a limited number of methodologies to teach reading and math so that learning those will be enough for most teachers.  Many of the new “research based methods” are simply variation on a theme and not really all that new.  Good teacher educators can teach the science of teaching and reasonably intelligent adults can learn that science.

That brings us to the art of teaching.  Some people might disagree but it is the art that cannot be taught.  The art of teaching is instinctive.  It’s knowing when to push a student to do more and when to stand back and know that what you are seeing is all you are going to get today.  It is knowing which parents are your allies and will join you in the highest expectations for their children and which parents will be the excuse makers and not your partners.   The artist teachers know which kids to kid with and which to be strictly serious. It’s an instinct.   It’s a way to connect with children on a very basic level- human being to human being.  It is laughing with a student who has just said something that might not be exactly appropriate for a student to say in school, but boy was that funny.  It is demonstrating your respect for the child and for his/her background that may well be different from yours.  It is respecting each other’s values even if they are not the same as yours.  It is earning a child’s respect for you rather than demanding that respect because of your position of authority.  

It is being an artist in the classroom.   You may not have all the latest and greatest methods down pat, but if you are the teacher who has the art of teaching, you are the one the kids will remember and tell their kids about.  Teaching is for artists, even if they are retired military

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

You can't read that

 You can’t read that


In a Virginia school district, parents will receive an email telling them every time their child checks out a book.  In a Florida school district, educators have been ordered to remove any books that mention racism, sexism, gender identity or oppression of any kind.   In Pennsylvania, a lay citizen panel will need to sign off on the list of books or other materials that school librarians may order.   In the past two years, six states have moved to limit what kids will be allowed to read and to remove those decisions from professional librarians or educators.  Five more states are considering such legislation this year.

Why are people so afraid and what do we have to lose besides our right to read and think?

Librarians go to school and are educated in the appropriate selection of books for different aged students.  If we do not trust them to do their jobs what will be the consequence.

Are we naïve enough to think that by forbidding kids to read about sex or gender identity they will stop thinking about these topics?  The reality is that when we forbid students from reading material that has been professionally vetted, they will simply move to other sources of information that have not been vetted and may be truly inappropriate. And those unvetted sources will have even more appeal since we all know that what is forbidden becomes immediately desired.  It wasn’t all that long ago when kids learned about sex through prurient novels.  Now they will go to prurient websites.  Is that really what we want?

Some families will tell you that they would certainly not consider book burning- after all authoritarian governments do that.  But books do not need to be burned to be destroyed.  If we go back to the era when all of the children in books had blond hair and peach skin, where does that leave the well over half of our population of kids that do not have these characteristics?  The same is true of LBGTQ kids.  They exist in our schools.  What are we saying to them if they do not exist in our reading material.   You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture, just don’t let people read about it.  Then those people and that culture ceases to be seen and to feel real.  Is this what we want for our children?  Do we really want to create more children who feel alienated from society?

Thinking and reading go hand in hand.  We need to think before we read and to think even harder after we read.

We may take the freedom to read for granted but then again, we took breathing for granted until the doc came with the ventilator.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

What would you thing?

 What would you think?


What would you think of a special ed teacher who repeatedly shoved a first grader on the autism spectrum into a trash can, telling him that since he “acted like trash”, he “would be treated like trash”.  She also pushed him to the floor and covered his nose and mouth.  This behavior was reported to school administration, but nothing was done.

The following year, the same teacher forced him to stand all day and poured grease on him.  This behavior was also reported to school administration and nothing was done.  This boy was not the only child this teacher abused.

This little boy was sent to a private therapist by his parents because of the trauma he suffered.  The private therapist reported the abuse to the police, there was a federal trial and the teacher pleaded guilty to assault of an individual with a disability.

The boy’s parents subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against the school administration saying that their son was still suffering psychologically from the experience and that the school administration knowing what was going on had a responsibility to intervene.

The school board on behalf of itself and its administrators argued they were not liable because they had qualified immunity.   The judge ruled in favor of the school board.  He said, “the mere allegation that such disheartening (emphasis added) things occurred at their school does not show that the school officials intended them to happen.”   The boy’s parents had argued through their attorney that malice can be inferred by the officials’ “knowledge of the abuse, failure to investigate, and reckless indifference to the abuse.”

Because of the boy’s limited communication ability, it was two years before, another school and a private therapist that the whole story became known.   Even after the teacher pleaded guilty to assault on a person with a disability, the school board continued to defend and employ her.   

“Public officials can be negligent, public officials can be recklessly indifferent” said the school board’s representative.  “This is what public immunity is for”

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best, “In the first place God made idiots.  This was for practice.  Then he made school boards.”