Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Nope, you can't get that help

 Nope, you can’t get that help.


Kids across our country are experiencing significant mental health issues.   Some experts say this is part of the fall out of the pandemic and the years students spent out of school supposedly learning online.  States are responding differently when kids ask for help.

In some states, that help cannot be delivered without the approval of parents.  Research indicates that requiring parental permission can be a significant barrier to children getting help.  But there are differing perspectives on mental health treatment.  Some cultures just don’t approve of it especially for kids.  The attitude is she will grow out of it or “I don’t want some counselor brain-washing my child with ideas I don’t approve of”.   Access to therapy is particularly critical for children who identify as LGBTQ.   These kids are significantly more likely to attempt suicide and also more likely to have family who do not approve of their feelings.  

States are responding quite differently.  States like Colorado, California  and Maryland have lowered the age of consent for treatment to 12.   In New York teens can self-consent to treatment at age 16 and physicians can authorize that treatment for younger children if they believe it is necessary.  But there are caveats.   The consent laws are only for outpatient and do not extend to prescription medications.  Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina have the worst records for providing access to mental health care for kids.  Everyone agrees that mental health treatment for children is much more effective if parents are in partnership with the treatment.  

There are also differences by race.  Data show that 14% of white children have had therapy at one time.  But those percentages drop dramatically for black children to 9% and 8% for Hispanic kids and only 3% for Asian children.   Distrust of therapists who are of a different race and/or bad experiences with psychotropic drugs are offered as the major reasons for failure to access therapy.

As a society we have identified a serious problem for our children.  As states we have taken two entirely different approaches.  Some states have expanded access to counseling by allowing kids to self-refer.   Other states have further limited access by requiring parental permission not just for counseling outside of school but even for seeing a school counselor for any issue at all, including academic counseling. 

We all admit kids need the help.  Some states are trying to facilitate that help.  While other states are acknowledging kids may need help,  but there are going to be some tall border walls going up.


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

You are out of here

 You are out of here!

What to do with a kid who is really getting on your nerves? Not just today but most days.  Maybe he could go home, that would be nice.

There are thousands of children in our schools who are doing just that.  The process is called “informal removal” and if the child has a diagnosed disability it is illegal.  But like a lot of things that are illegal, a school district needs to be caught and that isn’t happening very much.

Here is how the scenario plays out.  A parent gets a call from the school.  “Mark is having a bad day, rather than have him get into trouble would you mind coming to pick him up?”  Most parents comply rather than have the child get into more trouble or perhaps even being suspended.

There are school districts that unilaterally place students on shortened school days.  Diane Smith, a lawyer with the National Disability Rights Network, has stated that “the reality is that there are children in this country who are still considered of insufficient quality to go to school”

The National Disability Rights Network, a nonprofit established by Congress more than four decades ago, found that informal removals are occurring thousands of times per year as “off the book suspensions”.  There are even students who are involuntarily transferred to programs that do not exist.

Children are placed in situations where they are required to “earn back” school time that they have a legal right to have.

Educators respond that this practice is their only recourse given the requirements of the Education of All Children with Disabilities Act (IDEA).  That legislation requires two very important elements related to informal removals.  First, a child may not be disciplined for exhibiting behaviors that are characteristic of the disability.  This process is called the Manifestation Meeting where the school’s team and the child’s family make this determination. And, secondly, if the team finds that the behavior is a manifestation of the child’s disability, then the school needs to come up with an individual education plan that mitigates against manifestation.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is up for changes.  Lawmakers have STRONGLY encouraged that informal removals be prohibited.  

Schools and principals are also under pressure to reduce the number of suspensions for children with disabilities.  The answer to that issue is to use informal removals.

Since COVID the practice has increased.  Families are now fighting back.  

There is nothing informal about removing a child from school and parents are going to prove that.



Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Lots of B's in the package

 Lots of B’s in the package


Maryland’s Blueprint for Education has lots of B’s in it.  That’s billions of dollars.  Ten billions of dollars to be exact.  This is state money and it will be matched by local contributions.  That means that taxpayers need to be prepared for their pockets to be picked for both state and local taxes.

Just what will Marylanders get for that significant investment.  Like all budget buster bills there is good news and not so good news.

First the good news.   Maryland is on track to offer free funded preschool for all children.  The services will be provided through a combination of public school programs and local school system contracts with private preschools.  Local districts are struggling with this provision because they don’t have the space or the staff.  Partnering with private providers is going slowly.  Giving preschool opportunities to all children will not only be great for the kids but will truly help the children of lower income families who cannot presently afford the cost.  With a free program, more parents of lower income families will be available to work outside the home and increase family resources.

The Blueprint is also designed to increase starting teacher salaries to $60,000 within the next few years.   Teachers in Maryland are already among the most highly paid nationally. Increasing starting salaries will further strap the resources of local districts without doing anything to increase the talents of the teacher corp.  Surveys show that salary isn’t the issue keeping young people from becoming teachers.  But that is a topic for another day.  In most districts, these increases in starting salaries are not moving up the food chain, so there is the real possibility that any teachers attracted by the starting salary will not stay when they realize the increase has not moved up the salary ladder.

The legislators that created this plan were concerned that it would not be implemented judiciously.  So, in their wisdom, they created the Accountability Implementation Board (AIB).   This Board functions over the State Board of Education in all matters pertaining to the Blueprint.  But we are all assured this new Board is not an increase in bureaucracy.  On July 1, Maryland will have a new State Superintendent of Schools.  This person will answer to the State School Board which in turn will answer to the AIB in all matters pertaining to the Blueprint.    And, of course, the AIB will also have its own collection of support staff and expenses.

There are lots of B’s in this plan.  It has barely been implemented and already there are people saying it’s not enough money.   School districts are saying the same thing.  They don’t have enough money- could be more B’s are coming to pick a pocket near you.


Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Coming to a school near you

 Coming to a school near you…

The law requires that all children in Maryland under the age of 18  attend school.  That age was recently increased from sixteen.   

Who are the children in your child’s school?  The Juvenile Courts of Maryland regularly release students to attend public school with hours of community service as a consequence of a variety of bad behaviors.   These behaviors range from something like shoplifting all the way up to what would be felonies in the adult system.  

Those felonies include the use of a weapon in the commission of a crime, murder and sexual offenses such a rape.

School systems are not notifying families of the other students because that would be an obvious violation of the juvenile’s privacy.  However, if that person were a couple of years older, he or she would be listed on a sex offenders list to which the community would have access.

Let’s take the case of a teenager who cornered a girl student in the stairwell of a public middle school.  The girl, who was in a special education class, was pushed up against the wall and the boy touched her inappropriately under her sweater and rubbed his pelvis against her.  The girl was not even sure what was happening.  The consequence of that behavior was that after a 2-day suspension, the boy was transferred to another county middle school.  End of story.  None of the famiies at the receiving school were aware of the disciplinary situation.

In a Baltimore City high school there is a boy who has been convicted of second- degree rape of a 3-year old cousin.  He is currently in the 9th grade at the school.  As part of the disposition of the case, the juvenile magistrate said that he could not be around any child younger than 15 unless there was close supervision.  In a ninth grade there are lots of kids that are not yet 15.  It is next to impossible for any student in a large comprehensive high school to have constant supervision unless there is a dedicated aide.  Neither boy in these two examples has a dedicated aide.

Both school districts have refused to discuss the particular cases because they are protecting the privacy of the juvenile offenders.  In each instance, the districts have offered the legal and constitutional right of the boys to a public education.  That is totally true.  What they do not say is that there are non-public state approved schools that have closer supervision and programs to deal with students who have been sexually aggressive.   Of course, that would mean the school district had to pay that tuition.  But they do that for lots of students for different reasons.

Who are the kids in your child’s school?   Do parents have a right to know?

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Yep, Yep, We all know that.

 Yep, Yep, We know all about that


Really old news.  Kids (and adults) are spending too much time on their screens and social media.  But, well, you know how folks are about their technology.

Now the dangers of social media are attracting the attention of the U.S. Surgeon General.  Remember this was the office that long ago warned us about the dangers of nicotine and smoking.  Last year this same office took a stand on the dangers of social media for developing brains.  Important stuff when even young elementary kids are carting around smartphones.

Federal and state legislatures have also weighed in to regulate the use of social media.   Lots of political districts and school districts have taken to the courts to sue major social media platforms like Facebook.  These groups are accusing the social media platforms of being unsafe for a child’s mental health.

There are lots of opinions floating around.  Now there is also some empirical data to add to the discussion.  A longitudinal and empirical research analysis found that more frequent use of smartphones and social media is associated with higher rates of mental distress, self-harming behaviors and suicide among teenagers. Children's brains are slower to develop.  Kids do not realize the long term impact of these behaviors, not only on their mental health but also on their digital reputations.  They are bullied into sending sexually explicit images of themselves to peers without realizing how long this digital image is going to be around and/or shared with others.  A youngster’s brain is not fully developed.  They lack the capacity to make judgements based on long term harm. Too often families and schools just throw up their proverbial hands and say, “there isn’t anything we can do, the phones are everywhere”.

That’s the easy way out.  It’s too late to ban the phone after the damage has been done.

Authors of the study strongly recommend that the damage from too much social media needs to be controlled.  They recommend students and families engage in nonjudgmental and developmentally appropriate discussions and problem-solving around ways to limit social media.  But what can schools and families do when these logical, mature approaches don’t deliver?  That may be the time to remind kids who pays the cell phone bill and who is in charge.  In the old days, the advice was, “if your friend jumped off the bridge, would you do that too?”.   If your kid answers yes or maybe to this question when the bridge is cell phone usage, maybe it’s time to be the grown up in the room.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Do Something!

 Do Something!


Yesterday we celebrated Martin Luther King Day.   Many people had the day off.  It is doubtful that they used the day off from work to do anything that honored the work of Dr. King.  Baltimore City even cancelled the parade in his honor and that of the community because of some snow flurries.

Of the many Dr. King quotations, one of my most favorite is:

            “If you can’t fly then run,

            If you can’t run then walk,

            If you can’t walk then crawl

                But whatever you  do

                   Keep moving”

Sadly the vast majority of us sit on the sideline with the expectation that “someone else” will do the deed.  Unfortunately, “someone else” is expecting another “someone else” so very little gets done or what gets done is done by the folks on either extreme.

Almost fifty years ago, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA, 1975)was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ford.  At the signing, President Ford who signed under pressure, made the statement that he doubted its provisions could ever be fulfilled.

For the most part he was wrong.  By far, the vast majority of children with disabilities are being provided a free public education, but is that education appropriate to meet the needs of the individual child-the answer is – sometimes.

EHA was replaced by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which embodied all of the provisions of EHA and added a few extras.  In many ways, IDEA made children with disabilities as special class. But the public is very skilled at “work arounds”. Class size was restricted so that children with learning challenges could get more attention.  Today, the vast majority of children with disabilities are taught in co-taught classes meaning there is a special education trained teacher and a general ed teacher.  But the class size is in the mid-20’s.   IDEA requires that each child have an IEP- an individual learning program.  These plans specify the extent of related services the child will receive.  School districts regularly disregard the amount of service by saying they can’t find occupational or speech therapists or other providers.  No one enforces the IEP, unless the parents do.  When the parents try to enforce the IEP, school districts have highly paid trained attorneys to protect the interests of the school system, not the child’s.  If parents prevail at a due process hearing they get reimbursed for attorney’s fees, but only if they can afford the upfront cost of the long fight and if they prevail.  All of the decisions are supposed to be made by a child’s IEP team consisting of the school system staff and the child’s parents but some school districts hold preliminary meetings to make sure all of the school staff know the party line and stick together.

Today school systems do not have the programming options they had 40 years ago.   Self-contained classes ensured that families knew each other and could compare note and/or have belong to parent organizations.  In numbers there is strength.  We are returning to many of the ploys of old.  Conservative pundits are blaming the budget shortages on providing special ed services for kids as prescribed by law. 

The days of flying to meet the needs of children with disabilities are over.   It’s not even clear if advocates for children with disabilities are even moving anymore.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Algebra 2 vs social studies 1

 Algebra 2 vs. Social Studies 1


Our students are learning lots of algebra which only a fraction of them will ever use and next to nothing about history and civics which as a citizen in a democracy they should be using every day.

A recent Economist/YouGov poll found that one in five 18-29 year olds believe the Holocaust is a myth.  Another 30% said they are not sure!  Nearly 20% of Americans think the moon landing was faked. Half of Americans cannot name the three branches of government, yet we are reluctant to let immigrants gain citizenship through rigorous testing.

Most of this historical ignorance is among the young people.  So the question remains, where are we failing kids in our provision of an education?

Our young people are great consumers of social media.  They grab onto issues they really don’t understand and we, as educators, are not doing our job to help them.  The University of California-Berkeley recently conducted a pole.  Most students (86%) supported the popular media chant, “from the river, to the sea, Palestine will be free”.  But nearly half (47%) couldn’t name the river or the sea!  Maybe it’s the Mississippi River or the Mediterranean Sea.  Ten percent of these same COLLEGE students named Yassir Arafat as the first prime minister of Israel.   When the professor conducting the survey explained to students exactly what river and sea were in the chant, over half changed their views.

Only about 1/4th of young adults subscribe to a print newspaper.  The rest get their news online or by watching TV with its 30 second reports.  

We are still teaching US history in one year, even though the history or our country increases every year. Our kids know more about the Pilgrims and the first thanksgiving than they do about the Gulf War.  We do not teach civics so young adults all get to vote but are hardly informed citizens and many are not voting at all.   We live in a capitalistic economy but don’t teach economics.  Many people think employers can increase employee salaries without increasing costs passed on to the consumer.

Educators need to grab back the curriculum from the politicians.  We need to decide what young adults need to know to be contributing citizens in a democracy.  That should be our basic curriculum plus reading and basic math skills.  That’s the cake, we can add the icing after that.