My Son

My Son

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Democrats call on Missouri education commissioner to resign UPDATED with DESE reaction -

Democrats call on Missouri education commissioner to resign UPDATED with DESE reaction -

Missouri Sen. Paul LeVota has called on Missouri Education commissioner Chris Nicastro to resign.

In a statement, also signed by St. Rep.Genise Montecillo, he said:
“Dr. Chris Nicastro has demonstrated a troubling tendency to abuse power. The recent revelations concerning her involvement in overruling Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education staff to secure a more favorable cost estimate for a ballot measure being proposed by a special interest group is just the latest example...
“We believe the faith that Missourians once had in DESE has been shattered.”
LeVota and Montecillo are Democrats.
Nicastro has been accused of working with well-known conservative activistRex Sinquefield on a ballot measure related to education.
This, from Peter Herschend, president of the Missouri State Board of Education:
“Commissioner Nicastro’s review of this petition was nothing out of the ordinary. Department staff performed routine consultation on this measure just as when staff consulted on charter school legislation with Rep. Montecillo during the 2013 session.”

Read more here:

Can the School Expel My Son? - Wrightslaw

Can the School Expel My Son? - Wrightslaw

"Our son is almost 16 years old and is still in the 8th grade. He was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 5. Recently, he was evaluated by a psychologist who found that he has serious learning disabilities. He takes medication and sees a psychologist."

"The school is aware of his diagnosis but have never offered any help."

"Our son has been suspended several times this year - recently, he was suspended for 10 days. The school sent us a letter that they plan to expel him for the rest of the year."
"What did he do wrong? He did not fight or sell drugs. He went home after school with a friend in a car without getting permission first." 

"We have always supported the school but this isn't right. He is so far behind and feels so hopeless about school - if they expel him, I'm afraid he will drop out."

Can the school expel our son for this offense? Are they just trying to get rid of him? What should we do next?"

You say the school is aware that your son has ADHD and learning disabilities. He has long-standing academic problems. The school has retained him. Despite evidence that he has a disability that is adversely affecting his educational performance, the school has not offered to evaluate him nor have they provided any special education services. 

After suspending him several times, they decided to expel him. His "offense" is not related to weapons or drugs. He isn’t a danger to himself or others. You ask, “Can they do this?”

Yes, they can do this if you, the child's parents, don’t know his right and your rights or don’t know how to assert your rights. If the school has not evaluated your son or found him eligible for special education, it’s unlikely that you know these rights.

Here are some general suggestions about how to proceed. 

Get Your Emotions Under Control

Read our article, Emergency! Crisis! Help! In this article, you will learn what to do (and not do) when you are in the middle of a crisis, and how to make short-term and long-term plans.

Consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable about special education issues
An attorney can help you decide how to proceed, given the law in your state or jurisdiction.

How to Find an Educational Consultant, Advocate, Attorney offers strategies to find an advocate or attorney who represents children with disabilities.

For a list of parent attorneys, visit the Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities for your state and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates website.

Talk to your son’s psychiatrist and psychologist.

To deal with the school, you need help from outside experts who know your son. Because the school retained your son and did not provide him with special education services, he has fallen far behind his peers. To master the necessary skills to succeed in life, he will need intensive educational help. What are his educational needs? How can these needs be met? 

Write a letter to the school advising them that you do not agree to the expulsion

Use the letter you sent to us as the basis for your letter. Describe the problem and your concerns about your son. In your letter, do not point fingers or blame the school overtly. More advice about letter writing and sample letters.
Learn about your son's and your parental rights and responsibilities.

Here is some general information to help you get started. 
* Read the discipline section of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Discipline is in Section 1415(k).
Our book, Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, includes the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, all implementing regulations, and decisions issued by the U. S. Supreme Court in special education cases.

* Read Frequently Asked Questions About Discipline from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)
* Read the decision in Community School District No. 93 v. John F. - this case has similarities to your son's situation. Decision in PDFDecision in MS Word
Learn how to be an effective advocate for your son.

Our Advocacy page includes dozens of articles that will help, including:
Advocating for Your Child - Getting Started. Good special education services are intensive and expensive. Resources are limited. If you have a child with special needs, you may wind up battling the school district for the services your child needs. To prevail, you need information, skills, and tools.
From Emotions  to Advocacy - The Parents Journey - Strong emotions cause parents to react, often with damaging results. Don't shoot yourself in the foot. If you are having problems with the school, use your head. 

Discipline of Children with Special Needs by William B. Reichhardt, Esq. - Wrightslaw

Discipline of Children with Special Needs by William B. Reichhardt, Esq. - Wrightslaw

Note: Bill Reichhardt presented this program about discipline of students under IDEA or Section 504 at the 2013 Institute of Special Education Advocacy.
Our starting point is children who have been identified as having a disability under IDEA or Section 504.
Students who have not yet been determined eligible under IDEA prior to the misconduct may invoke the procedural and due process protections if it is later determined that they were eligible at the time of the misconduct.
The school is deemed to have knowledge of a child’s disability if:
  • The parent has expressed written concern that the child may need special education services.
  • The school notes pattern of behavior or performance that indicates a need for special education services.
  • The parent has requested an evaluation for eligibility for special education services.
Short and Long term Suspensions
  • Short term suspension – up to 10 consecutive school days or 10 cumulative school days in a year.
  • Long term suspension – more than 10 consecutive school days.
  • Expulsion: 365 days.
Ten Day Rule
  • A special education student can be removed to an appropriate interim alternative educational setting for not more than 10 consecutive dayswithout this removal being considered a change of placement.
  • Be aware of patterns of short-term removals that act as placement changes. May be called something different – a placement that is not his placement in the IEP.
Continuation of Services
This is an area of law that continues to cause confusion. Some schools believe they don’t need to provide any instruction while the child is suspended or expelled. Or schools believe that because he’s suspended, they can change placement.
School districts must continue to provide educational services for special education students who have been suspended for more than 10 days or have been expelled.
What is a Change of Placement?
A change of placement occurs when:
– child has been removed from more than 10 consecutive school days; or
– the child has been subjected to a series of removals that constitute a pattern -
  • Series of removals total more than 10 school days in the school year
  • The child’s behavior is substantially similar to previous incidents of removal
  • Consider total amount of time/proximity of removals
In-School Suspensions
In school suspension may not be considered a change of placement triggering due process if:
– The student is afforded opportunity to progress in the general curriculum
– the school continues to provide services under the IEP
– student continues to participate with nondisabled students to the same degree
Manifestation Determination Review (MDR)
  • If the child is faced with expulsion or long term suspension (over 10 days), the school must determine whether the behavior is a manifestation of the child’s disability.
  • If a manifestation, the disciplinary suspension must end and the behavior must be addressed through the IEP process
  • MDR must be done within 10 days from the date of the suspension/expulsion decision (removal of the child from the placement)
  • MDR is done by the IEP team
Special Circumstances when a MDR is not Required
The student may be removed to an interim alternative educational setting for not more than 45 school days without a MDR if:
– The student is in possession of a weapon at school, on school premises or at a school activity.
– The student knowingly possesses, uses, sells or distributes illegal drugs while at school or school functions.
– The student has inflicted serious bodily injury on another person at school or on school premises.
Criteria for the MDR
The behavior for which the child is being disciplined was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child’s disability, and /or
The behavior was the direct result of the schools failure to implement the IEP.
If the Behavior is a Manifestation of the Child’s Disability:
  • The school must either – conduct a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) and implement a behavior intervention plan (BIP) or
  • If a BIP has already been developed, review the plan and modify as needed.
If the Behavior is not a Manifestation of the Students Disability
If the behavior was not a manifestation of the students disability, the student is subject to the same discipline for misconduct as children without a disability – however, the student must continue to receive education services to allow the child to progress under the IEP.
Preparing for the MDR: Marshalling the Evidence
  • Quickly obtain the discipline packet from the school – incident report, student’s statement, witness statements, teacher summaries etc. (ask about video tape).
  • Review all current evaluation material for the student (school /private testing); prior FBAs, BIPs
  • Identify potential experts – therapists, physicians etc. – get releases
Basics of Defending the MDR
  • Have a thorough understanding of the nature and scope of the student’s disability.
  • See how the school has previously described the manifestation of the student’s disability- in the IEP, FBA, BIP.
  • Objectively assess the defense of the MDR. Do not stretch credibility.
Preparing Expert Input for the MDR
  • Experts such as a child’s therapist or physician should have a clear understanding of the criteria for the MDR.
  • Give experts a copy of the incident report and student statement(s).
  • In giving written or verbal input, expert should reference specific facts of the incident and link to the child’s disability using the MDR criteria.
MDR Tactics from the Trenches
1. If you need more time to gather existing relevant evidence, offer to do a written waiver of the 10 day rule.
2. If refused, offer the waiver in writing and cite the reason. This could help you on appeal.
3. If your experts are helpful, get releases for them to speak to the school about the MDR criteria, in addition to written submissions.
4. If you have a good defense,  turn the MDR into a collaborative problem solving effort. Focus on “ direct substantial relationship.”
5. Prepare your response to the “intentional misconduct” argument by school personnel who “don’t believe in special ed.”
Behavior Intervention Plans
Should be written and should describe specific positive behavioral interventions.
Are used to help a student with behavioral problems function in the least restrictive environment.
Should be made part of the student’s IEP (but not required).
Expedited Due Process Hearing
Parent may request if:
  • Contest “non causal” MDR finding
  • Disciplinary placement decision
School may request if child is dangerous in current setting.
Common Appeal Issues in Discipline Cases
  • Findings and Procedures in the Manifestation Determination Review (MDR).
  • Denial of FAPE by extended homebound exclusion without adequate services.
  • Failure to provide FAPE in an alternative learning environment.

School Learns Lessons After "Scream Room" Investigation | NBC Connecticut

School Learns Lessons After "Scream Room" Investigation | NBC Connecticut

A year and a half after a “scream” room investigation at Farm Hill Elementary School in Middletown, the Superintendent of Schools said the staff has been completely retrained, and school policies reevaluated.
Dr. Patricia Charles said educators at Farm Hill have been working with the State Department of Education to learn how to deescalate a child’s behavior before resorting to seclusion, a process in which children are placed in empty rooms and monitored by an adult until the child calms down.
“We do still have the rooms at Farm Hill School,” said Dr. Charles, who was hired after the allegations first came to light.
In 2012, Farm Hill School parents complained of children coming home and describing screaming students being dragged into seclusion rooms in the school. Investigations by the State Department of Education, Department of Children and Families, Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, and Office of the Child Advocate concluded that staff were not notifying parents regularly when a child was placed in the room.
The investigation found huge holes in state-mandated documentation of the use of the rooms. The investigations also revealed that of the 15 children placed in seclusion that school year, only four had individualized educational programs in which parents were aware of the use of that technique.
A federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is ongoing.
“We wanted to make sure we were doing it correctly, the State wanted to make sure we were doing it correctly, and so together, through their guidance, we've been able to put together a good plan so we don't end up with those same issues again,” Dr. Charles said.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Embattled Ferguson-Florissant superintendent had spoken out on school choice : News

Embattled Ferguson-Florissant superintendent had spoken out on school choice : News

Art McCoy stood in front of legislators a few months ago in a small auditorium at St. Charles Community College, offering a controversial idea to help kids in failing schools — choice.
The superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District was one of many educators and school district officials who spoke to members of the Missouri House that September afternoon. But some of his ideas about a student transfer law were in stark contrast to theirs.
McCoy, 36, offered this fix: With a combination of school choice, capped tuition and more comprehensive solutions for unaccredited schools, area school districts could handle more than 15,000 transfer students, he told them. That would be more than five times the amount of students transferring this year under the law upheld in June by the Missouri Supreme Court.
At that hearing and another that evening, three members of the Ferguson-Florissant School Board watched from the audience. So did area superintendents and teacher union groups.
“I remember thinking, I wonder if his board agrees with him,” said Don Senti, a former superintendent who directs Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis. “Some of the things he said were pretty far out there.”
Members of the School Board won’t elaborate on the “differences in focus and philosophy” that were cited as their reasoning to suspend McCoy this month.
What’s known is that for more than a year, McCoy has been appearing at numerous public meetings and before state commissions taking stances on issues that are contrary to those of most of the state’s superintendents and school boards.
McCoy’s suspension comes as a broader fight is intensifying statewide over school choice and how to best help children in troubled schools.
Since the high court ruling, McCoy has worked to welcome transfer students to his district at a time when the academic performance of his school system is slipping. His actions have resulted in his district’s absorption of 430 students from the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts.
Some say McCoy’s toughness on teachers has created tensions with board members backed by the Missouri National Education Association. Others say his openness to school choice has contributed to his falling out with the Ferguson-Florissant board.
But Ferguson-Florissant board leaders Paul Morris and Chris Martinez dismissed any connection between McCoy’s suspension and his positions on school choice.
“Just because Dr. McCoy may have wanted to have some kind of conversation in the public or in the board room about what some might consider really different ideas ... it’s not at all about that,” Martinez said.
McCoy was placed on administrative leave Nov. 6 by a 6-1 vote of the School Board. Almost immediately, a firestorm erupted in the 11,500-student district.
Parents began questioning the motives behind the board, made up of six white and one Hispanic member. McCoy is the first African-American superintendent of the district, which has majority black enrollment.
The St. Louis chapter of the NAACP is exploring whether racism played a role. A crowd of about 1,500 parents, students and district residents packed into a high school gymnasium on Nov. 13 to question the board’s decision.
Since the vote to suspend McCoy, explanations from the board have been limited, but have hinted at problems within the district.
Morris, the board president, has said “our concerns regarding compliance with board directives are significant enough to warrant action.” Initially, the board released a statement about the leave stating it was not an indication of wrongdoing.
McCoy assumed the role of superintendent at a time of turnover on the School Board. Most of the members who voted to hire him are no longer on the board.
Three current board members – Rob Chabot, Morris and Martinez – were elected with the backing of the teachers union in April 2011. At the time, McCoy had been hired as superintendent, but had not started in the position.
Some say McCoy’s difficulties with the board are at least partly centered on his relationship with Morris.
Morris is a former teacher who had resigned in 2010 from one of the district’s high schools, McCluer North, and was a longtime active member of the teachers’ union. He left teaching after Principal Shane Hopper confronted him about using district property and purchase orders for personal use, as well as ordering items without prior approval.
Morris admitted to minor violations in his resignation letter. But he contended that Hopper sought to get rid of him because he had questioned several of the principal’s decisions.
At the time, McCoy was an assistant superintendent overseeing high schools.
Former School Board member Chuck Henson believes Morris has a personal vendetta against McCoy. Henson said Morris asked him not to vote for McCoy.
“Paul did everything he could to try to figure out a way to get Dr. McCoy out,” Henson said.
Morris said the accusation of trying to oust McCoy for personal reasons is completely false. He reiterated the vote to place McCoy on paid administrative leave was 6-1.
“I couldn’t have orchestrated that,” Morris said.
McCoy’s future with the district remains uncertain.
The board has given no indication of whether it will ultimately fire him. McCoy has not spoken publicly about the details surrounding his suspension, or whether he will resign. He has been spending time with his family, said a supporter who’s been in touch with him.
On Friday, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reported it had found that someone had tampered with the district’s attendance figures reported to the state in 2012. That could result in a loss of $80,000 for the district. But the department did not indicate who was responsible.
In recent years, McCoy has been viewed by many as a rising star in the state’s education establishment. In 1997, when he was 19, he was thought to be the state’s youngest certified teacher.
He eventually became an administrator in the Rockwood School District, where he oversaw the program that allowed African-American students from St. Louis to transfer to suburban schools under the voluntary desegregation agreement.
At Ferguson-Florissant, he showed a willingness to accept transfer students even before the Missouri Supreme Court had upheld their legality.
In 2011, when other area superintendents were turning away students from unaccredited districts, Ferguson-Florissant officials became aware that several students from Riverview Gardens were attending their schools, said Les Lentz, on the board at the time. After the district confirmed their residency, McCoy and the board chose to look the other way and not send them back, Lentz said.
“If that kid was getting an education, that’s what counted,” Lentz said.
McCoy’s openness to transfers has continued this year. The district has spent $400,000 to add 15 teachers and teacher assistants to accommodate the transfers. It has done so even as most school districts have resisted spending tuition payments from Normandy and Riverview on additional staff or programs.
McCoy, in contrast, helped raise private funds to provide transfer students with bus transportation. The district also has used existing programs to help students who need food, or money to keep the utilities on at their home.
State Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff, who chaired the interim House committee on education, said he specifically invited McCoy to speak at the September hearings.
“Sometimes it’s tough if you want to do what’s best for children and get outside the mainstream establishment of education,” Cookson said. “If you don’t walk just lockstep with them, that can be difficult. And dangerous.”
Jessica Bock covers K-12 education for the Post-Dispatch. Follow her on twitter @jessicabock

Saturday, November 23, 2013

St. Louis Public Schools to pay state for attendance fraud - St. Louis Business Journal

St. Louis Public Schools to pay state for attendance fraud - St. Louis Business Journal

St. Louis Public Schools will reimburse the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education $145,000 for funds it received due to attendance fraud.
An audit in 2011 found that the principal of Patrick Henry Downtown Academy had directed the school secretary to alter attendance records in 2008, 2009 and 2010., the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The altered attendance numbers helped the school meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements and allowed the school to receive state funding.

Bloated attendance data could cost Ferguson-Florissant schools $80,000 : News

Bloated attendance data could cost Ferguson-Florissant schools $80,000 : News

Results released Friday from a state review of attendance data in Ferguson-Florissant show that someone in the school district made changes in August 2012 that increased the student attendance rate.
But what state and district officials haven’t said is who was responsible.
Student attendance is a factor in the formula that calculates how much money a school district receives from the state. Attendance rates also contribute to a district’s accreditation score.
The findings mean that state officials will now work with the district to make necessary data corrections and recalculate its state aid payment based on the updated attendance numbers. It is estimated the changes could mean a loss of $80,000 this year for the district. The district has an annual budget of about $141 million.
The inquiry followed the controversial suspension of the district’s superintendent, Art McCoy, who has been on paid administrative leave from the district since a Nov. 6 School Board vote. An initial statement from the board said it was not an indication of wrongdoing. On Monday, Ferguson-Florissant School Board President Paul Morris said that the board had received information “serious enough” to be required by law to notify the state education department.
Ron Lankford, a deputy commissioner in the state education department, sent a letter Friday to the district saying the department found information that verified the district’s report of significant alterations to student attendance data on Aug. 6, 2012.
The state review showed that on that date, someone in the district increased the attendance data in files for 3,357 students. The change resulted in about 20,569 more attendance hours than had been previously reported, and an increase in average daily attendance to 10,336 from 10,317.
State education officials plan to work with district staff to make the necessary data corrections. The financial impact will be determined once the adjustments to student attendance data are made. After that, the state department’s role in resolving the issue will be complete, according to a statement released today by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
For its part, the Ferguson-Florissant School Board plans to continue its investigation into the matter. The board met in closed session Friday morning, but no decisions have been made as a result of the letter, district spokeswoman Jana Shortt said. No other district employees have been placed on administrative leave related to this issue.
McCoy has not returned messages from reporters about his suspension and the state’s review. But in a letter he wrote to Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro this week, he said he was ready to respond to any allegation or concern that her department was reviewing.
At a town hall meeting in September, McCoy presented information that showed Ferguson-Florissant had a 95.8 percent overall attendance rate in August 2012. For the year, the average was 94.2 percent. The data that was changed would have been for a previous period.
It’s not the first time the state has investigated irregularities in attendance reporting.
Earlier this month, state education officials found evidence that Hope Academy, a charter school in Kansas City, may have inflated attendance and enrollment information.
A state audit also revealed that the principal of Patrick Henry Downtown Academy in St. Louis had orchestrated the alteration of hundreds of attendance records. The department found that it had paid St. Louis Public Schools an excess of $145,000 as a result. The district repaid that money earlier this month.
Elisa Crouch of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
Jessica Bock covers K-12 education for the Post-Dispatch. Follow her on twitter @jessicabock

Friday, November 22, 2013

DESE finds Ferguson-Florissant attendance changes

DESE finds Ferguson-Florissant attendance changes

FLORISSANT, Mo. (KSDK) – The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found changes to Ferguson-Florissant district's attendance, according to a letter from DESE to the acting superintendent.
DESE Deputy Commissioner Ronald Lankford writes that the department found files had been changed on or around Aug. 6, 2012 to increase the attendance rate of Ferguson-Florissant.
Last week, the Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education President Paul Morris wrote in a letter to parents and community members that the board was required by law to notify DESE of serious information regarding Superintendent Art McCoy.
McCoy was put on administrative leave on November 7.
Lankford writes that DESE will assist in making the needed data corrections. He also states that once corrections are made, the district could further be contacted about financial impacts.
The Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education met in a closed meeting to discuss the preliminary results.

Union: MO education commissioner too involved with lobbyist backing teacher tenure initiative

Union: MO education commissioner too involved with lobbyist backing teacher tenure initiative

Union: MO education commissioner too involved with lobbyist backing teacher tenure initiative

The Missouri chapter of a national teachers’ union says the state’s education commissioner went too far in working with lobbyists creating a ballot initiative to eliminate teacher tenure and institute evaluations based on student performance.
The Missouri-National Education Association obtained a series of e-mails from September of last year through March of this year between Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and other Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials and staff members and Kate Casas, state policy director for the Children’s Education Council of Missouri, a group backed by political activist Rex Sinquefield.
MNEA Political Director Mark Jones says those e-mails show Nicastro editing the proposed initiative and making comments to expand its scope. He says the e-mail communications, “show a disturbing level of collusion and cooperation between a high-ranking official and a paid lobbyist.”
In one e-mail, Nicastro instructs DESE Counsel Mark VanZandt to bring copies of the proposed language to the closed session meeting of the State Board of Education and not to include it in the publicly posted agenda.
After the ballot initiative had been submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office, Nicastro changed a proposed cost estimate to be submitted to the State Auditor from reading local governments could face the “potential for significant unknown costs” to reading “cost unknown.”
Three analyses were done by local school districts in Missouri of the costs of the new evaluations the initiative would require. The Cape Girardeau District says the tests could cost it more than $2.6 million up front and more than $105,000 annually. The Hannibal District put those costs at more than $1.7 million initially and more than $79,000 annually. The Rockwood School District said the initial cost would be more than $10 million, with an annual cost of nearly $557,000.
Jones says MNEA also submitted a cost analysis.
“We estimated the initiative requires high stakes, standardized testing in every subject and every grade,” Jones says, “and will cost at least $200-million, and the upward cost is actually several billion dollars.”
The summary of the Auditor’s fiscal note for the initiative reads, “Decisions by school districts regarding provisions allowed or required by this proposal and their implementation will influence the potential costs or savings impacting each district. Significant potential costs may be incurred by the state and/or the districts if new/additional evaluation instruments must be developed to satisfy the proposal’s performance evaluation requirements.”
Attempts to reach Casas for comment were not responded to by the time this story was posted.
The State Board of Education in a statement says, “It is the duty of Missouri Commissioner of Education to serve all members of the public not just select groups. It’s unfortunate that special interest groups want the Commissioner to choose sides in debates that serve the interests of adults not children.”

MO Education Commissioner addresses e-mail controversy (AUDIO)

MO Education Commissioner addresses e-mail controversy (AUDIO)

Missouri’s Commissioner of Education says she and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education did nothing unusual in working with a lobbyist on the development of a ballot initiative.
Chris Nicastro testifies in a House Committee Hearing (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)
Chris Nicastro testifies in a House Committee Hearing (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)
The Missouri chapter of the National Education Association obtained and released e-mails exchanged among Chris Nicastro, staff members at DESE and Kate Casas, state policy director for the Children’s Education Council of Missouri. MNEA Political Director Mark Jones says those e-mails, “show a disturbing level of collusion and cooperation between a high-ranking official and a paid lobbyist.”
The ballot initiative Casas was working on would eliminate teacher tenure and institute teacher evaluations based on student performance. The campaign has been financed by political activist Rex Sinquefield.
Nicastro tells Missourinet her office routinely reviews proposals from individuals and organizations from varying points of view to make sure they don’t conflict with the State Board of Education’s vision for education in the state.
She stresses DESE was not working with Casas on the tenure issue.
“We made it very clear from the beginning that we did not have a position on tenure and would not weigh in on that topic,” she says.
Nicastro says her staff instead focused on the student performance testing component of the initiative and how that might mesh with what DESE is doing regarding educator evaluations.
“We’ve been working on that with all of our education partners, including the NEA, for three years and we wanted to make sure that whatever they put in the petition, should that prove to be passed at some point, that it didn’t conflict with that work.”
Jones keys on two points in the e-mail communications. In one, Nicastro instructs DESE Counsel Mark VanZandt to bring copies of the proposed language to the closed session meeting of the State Board of Education and not to include it in the publicly posted agenda.
Nicastro says there was “nothing nefarious” or unusual about that.
“We do not post things that go into closed session. That’s certainly in compliance with the law,” says Nicastro. “The reason we would do that in executive session is so that the Board’s attorney could brief them on the implications of that initiative petition relative to the Board’s role in dealing with evaluation or other issues that might come up legally, related to that petition.”
Jones also criticizes Nicastro for changing a proposed cost estimate to be submitted to the State Auditor from reading local governments could face the “potential for significant unknown costs” to reading “cost unknown.”
Nicastro says her change made the wording more concise, and was meant to keep DESE’s input on the fiscal note objective.
“Any time we do a fiscal note we have to be sure that we can document exactly where those numbers came from,” she explains.
She says the costs of student testing in support of new staff evaluations could vary widely across Missouri’s 520 school districts and more than 50 charter school local education agencies.
“If they choose to adopt the state model as it exists, if they choose to use all the forms and procedures that we’ve outlined, if they choose to use the training that we’ve provided, their cost could be zero or very little. If, on the other hand, a district were to choose … which they can … to develop their own model aligned with the seven principles that we’ve put forth and do their own development and their own training, their cost could be quite significant,” says Nicastro. “In a case like that we would simply say we don’t know. ‘Cost unknown.’”
Nicastro says she does not know if at the time she changed the fiscal note, information was available from the cost analyses of cost of the new student testing the initiative would require.
In those analyses the Cape Girardeau District said the tests could cost it more than $2.6 million up front and more than $105,000 annually. The Hannibal District put those costs at more than $1.7 million initially and more than $79,000 annually. The Rockwood School District said the initial cost would be more than $10 million, with an annual cost of nearly $557,000.
Nicastro says, “I wouldn’t be privy to that.”
The State School Board President has revised its statement in support of Nicastro. It asserts, “The Commissioner and her staff routinely respond to requests for review of legislative proposals. In this case the primary focus was on alignment with the Department’s work on a state model for educator evaluation.”
Listen to Mike Lear’s interview with Chris Nicastro:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Blue Springs mother outraged school district allowed to investigate alleged abuse internally

Blue Springs mother outraged school district allowed to investigate alleged abuse internally

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - Should a Missouri state law that allows school districts to internally investigate child abuse allegations against educators be changed?

One Blue Springs family is questioning whether the current law allowing school districts to do just that serves the best interest of children in the Show-Me State.

Jake Livingston looks like the average 9-year-old boy next door.

“(He) likes to write jokes and tell stories. Just overall if you met him, you would think he’s a normal kid,” said Susan Wolfe, his mother.

Jake has childhood alopecia. The disease caused him to lose his hair. He also has a high-functioning form of autism and ADHD. His school, Sunny Pointe Elementary, offers him some extra individualized help through its Special Education classroom.

But Wolfe said an incident in that classroom on May 7 came as a complete surprise.

Wolfe said it started as a misunderstanding between the special education teacher and Jake regarding a school assignment.

She said Jake believed he had completed the assignment the night before. The special education teacher believed it was not completed. The teacher brought Jake a new worksheet and asked him to complete it.
Wolfe said Jake ripped up the paper. That’s when she said the teacher crossed a line.

“She actually grabbed him by the back of his neck and the arm and pushed him to the floor out of his chair,” said Wolfe.

Jake had a small mark on his head from the incident. Wolfe took a picture and reported the incident to the child abuse hotline. However, she said she was surprised to learn the school district would be allowed to investigate itself. 

Missouri law allows a school district to choose whether to investigate the allegation itself or have the Department of Social Services conduct the investigation.

Wolfe told 41 Action News Investigators she believes that is a conflict of interest. She said she was not happy with how the Blue Springs School District performed its investigation.

“During this whole investigation I never knew the investigator’s name. They never contacted us," Wolfe said. "The only thing they had from us was a statement that my son wrote as a third grader as to what happened.”
The investigator obtained written statements from Jake, the teacher involved and two other paraprofessionals who were working in the classroom at the time.

Jake’s handwritten statement mirrored the statements of the two paraprofessionals. All three wrote that the teacher grabbed Jake’s arm and neck and pushed him to the floor.

The statement the teacher wrote said Jake fell to the floor.

In a letter to the Missouri Department of Social Services, the school district's Board of Education president wrote the investigation found the charge was unsubstantiated.

Wolfe told the 41 Action News investigators she was angered by the report.

“How can two adults and a child have similar report, and then the one teacher that did the assaulting has a different report and it can be dismissed?” said Wolfe.

In the report, the investigator described another incident at the same school involving the very same teacher. The investigator wrote that the principal told him in February -- just three months earlier -- that he had written and spoken to the teacher for grabbing a child by the neck and forcing his head down on the desk.

“That's alarming to me that this is not the first issue that she has had and has been addressed with her,” Wolfe said.

Her attorney, Deborah Johnson, said she believes this presents a conflict of interest.

“Why are school districts allowed to investigate themselves when there is an allegation of abuse or neglect? That makes no sense,” Johnson said.

Johnson told the 41 Action News Investigators she thinks lawmakers should take a second look at the provision of the law that allows school districts the option to investigate themselves.

“A hotline report is filed against me for social services to investigate, and that report is given to me to investigate myself? What am I going to say ‘Yes, I am guilty?’ No, I'm not going to say that. That just seems insane to me,” Johnson said.

Information obtained from the Missouri Department of Social Services shows the state received 600 calls about schools, both private and public, into the child abuse hotline in 2011. Statistics show 29 of those calls were substantiated. The Department of Social services does not keep statistics on how often school districts choose to perform investigations themselves.

The Blue Springs School District told 41 Action News the teacher in question resigned while the district was performing the investigation. A spokesperson said the district would have no further comment on the incident due to pending litigation.

A 41 Action News investigation found that teacher is still teaching special education at another school in the Kansas City area.

Jake’s family and their attorney feel that is proof the law needs

Read more:

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Concerns Regarding School Assessments for Educational Autism

Lee's Summit R-7 School District: The Concerns Regarding School Assessments for Educational Autism

This is happening a lot in Lee's Summit.  At one point it was happening 50% of the time.  When I last checked there were 250 students in the district with a medical diagnosis of autism and only 98 had an educational diagnosis.

From the Article The Concerns Regarding School Assessments for Educational Autism

Please read the rest.  Here is a portion that I find significant.

I recently assessed a teenager and diagnosed him with Asperger’s Syndrome. Within the past year two psychologists for different purposes (hospital and disability determination) also diagnosed him with Asperger’s Syndrome. Yet the school believed that he did not fit the criteria for educational autism based on their assessment. He was failing every subject and having behavioral and social difficulties. No other explanation was given for the problems in school and he was denied special services. Due to a predictable problem he was suspended from school and is now, ironically, receiving services. We are not sure what will happen when he returns to school.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Missouri School District Faces Second Federal Lawsuit in Two Years - Yahoo News

Missouri School District Faces Second Federal Lawsuit in Two Years - Yahoo News

The Republic School District in southwest Missouri is facing its second lawsuit in federal court in four years over a special education student. The Springfield News-Leader reports the Hansen family won a case against the school district after four years of litigation stating their son needed individualized attention since the fifth grade.
The federal lawsuit litigated in June 2009 that he had conduct and personality disorders that required the school district to adapt to his needs for an education. Eventually, he got four hours of individualized tutoring which helped improve his grades.
Since the lawsuit was settled in 2010, the family moved away. It was also reported the family had more than $27,000 in legal costs paid by the district. Republic itself spent over $60,000 in legal fees.
Another lawsuit was brought against the school district in federal court alleging another pupil's rights were violated. A girl and her family are suing Republic Schools over multiple rape allegations by a boy on middle school grounds. Plaintiffs say they have DNA evidence and juvenile court records to back up their claims. Republic schools have denied the accusations. The current litigation received national media attention from the likes of CBS News .
That makes two lawsuits in federal court in a two-year period for Republic Schools regarding special needs children. Even though the recent lawsuit is just beginning, there clearly is something wrong in the once proud school system. Added to these lawsuits was a controversy over the past year regarding the banning of two books from the high school's library. That issue also received national attention.
The $87,000 in legal fees could easily pay for two or three teachers to help kids learn. It could also go towards improved curricula or funding for special education programs. Instead, it went to fees to clean up a mess that administrators and leaders in the Republic School District created themselves. The next school board election in Republic will be very interesting to watch.
What's even worse is that both students' lives were changed forever. No one should have to endure the humiliation of these kids who were just trying to be normal kids. This is America where no one should be treated as a second-class citizen. How we treat the future of this country today will largely effect how the next generation of leaders will work with citizens to better their communities.
For some children who attended schools in Republic, their lives 10 years from now will be irrevocably altered by men and women who were trained to protect them. Instead, they were ignored.
William Browning, a lifelong Missouri resident, writes about local and state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Born in St. Louis, Browning earned his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri. He currently resides in Branson.