Archives for category: Special Education

Janet Van Lone left a comment on the blog, sharing a letter she sent to Campbell Brown, who advocates for charters and vouchers and for eliminating teacher due process.

Janet writes:

I was really annoyed at Campbell Brown the other day, so I wrote her a letter:

Dear Campbell Brown,

I used to like you. I remember watching you on the Today Show and CNN awhile back. To me, you felt like a friend, someone I’d like to have over for a cup of coffee or as a member of my bookclub. I see now that you have joined the ranks of school “reformer” and “child advocate”.

I have two kids who attend public school. I am a former special education teacher. I’ve spent years working with children who are living in poverty, dealing with it’s disastrous effects. Currently I am pursuing my doctorate in education, in an effort to continually work on the real problems we face in this field. I have enormous respect for the teaching profession, and I want to do everything that I can to recruit and train great teachers to put in all types of classrooms across this country. I want them to stay in their jobs for many years, and once they become master teachers, I want them to inspire and mentor the next generation of educators.

Teachers, unions, and tenure are not the problem with public education. It seems that you have waged war on teachers because of all of the “teacher sexual predators” who are apparently running rampant in our schools. Let me be clear. The very large majority of teachers are hard working people who decided to teach for the love of the profession, to inspire youth, and to make a difference in society. If a sexual predator makes it into our ranks we would be the first to be outraged and disgusted. Our job is to protect children and we take that very seriously. To my knowledge, I have not met any teacher sexual predators in the almost 20 years I’ve spent in public schools. Teachers, unions, and tenure is NOT the problem with public education.

YOU and your corporate billionaire funders are the real problem. You provide no significant data to support your claims, you refuse to address poverty (the real issue), and your goal is to dismantle the public school system, all in the name of more profits for you and your greedy billionaire donors.

You are not a school reformer, nor are you an advocate. Child advocates spend time with children. Advocates are voices for those in need. They act on their behalf to ensure they receive adequate nutrition, healthcare, education, and they work to help each child meet their own individual potential. Advocates fight tirelessly against poverty. They fight against predators who seek to personally profit off of the most vulnerable children in our society.

Diane Ravitch, a real hero for public education and the teachers and children it serves, has offered to talk with you about the actual problems with public education. Please do that. You are misinformed and misguided. She can help.

In the meantime, I’m going to pay attention to who is benefitting from your scheme, both financially and politically. And I’m going to tell everyone and anyone who will listen.

Please reconsider your actions so that you and your friends don’t destroy public education.

Janet Van Lone

This is incomprehensible. Mike Klonsky reports that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is cutting the budget for special education.

The city and the public schools are in a deep hole, financially.

But the budget can’t be balanced by firing teachers and aides for children with special needs, for two reasons. First, because it is morally wrong to make savings by taking away teachers from the neediest children. Second, because children with disabilities are protected by federal law. As Klonsky says, parents will file lawsuits, and the law is on their side.

Why not raise taxes on the 1%?

Edward Placke is Superintendent of the Greenburgh-North Castle Unified School District, which serves students from urban areas who are primarily of African, Caribbean and Spanish heritage. All students are eligible for the federal free lunch program and are identified as disabled, primarily emotionally disabled. He wants the public to know that these students have been shamefully neglected in the state budget, for years.

This is his message:


Shame on New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. Shame on New York state’s legislators.
Once again the children with the most significant disabilities who live in our most impoverished communities throughout New York are totally ignored by our representatives. These are the students who their respective community school
districts have been unable to educate due to their significant academic and behavioral challenges. I use this term representatives lightly in that our elected officials only represent major contributors, special interest groups and benefactors; donors who ensure their reelection; contributors who unashamedly advocate for privatization of our public schools, contributors who advocate the dismantling of our unions; public rhetoric that demeans our public school teachers and administrators ;contributors who have little or no training in education and; representatives who support an educational reform movement that is ill conceived and will prove ineffective for students of all abilities.
The New York State assembly, senate and the Governor’s office represent all that is insensitive, corrupt and self-serving in our state and country, particularly around the students we are blessed to serve; those with significant disabilities.
Their latest demonstration of the aforementioned disturbing variables is their inability to pass a law this session that would provide alternative educational programs, which include the 853 schools and the public special act school districts (and I underscore the public nature of the public special act school districts), with a minimal annual increase in funding. Unlike other public school districts in New York, these vital educational programs as of this time will be funded at prior year rates for current year costs. The sustainability of these programs that consistently produce outstanding outcomes are in jeopardy of continuing to educate New York’s most vulnerable students. It should be noted that historically funding for these educational programs have at times been frozen which has caused enormous fiscal stress.
Shame on our so called representatives. Despite their outright disregard for our student bodies my advocacy and the advocacy of those with like minds will not rest until the education we offer is comparable to community public schools. Our mission to ensure our students successfully cross “The Bridge To Adulthood” and overcome the many societal obstacles they had no part in creating. I urge our representatives to rethink their position on this bill and join me in advocating for this highly deserving population of students.
Ed Placke,Ed.D.
Greenburgh North Castle UFSD

Bianca Tanis and Marla Kilfoyle are parents and educators in Néw York. They have fought against inappropriate testing of children with special needs. They are leaders of the state’s large Opt Out movement.

They became outraged when they learned that the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents said that, if she had a child with certsin disabilities, she would “think twice” before letting the child take the state tests.

This is the message that parents of children with disabilities have repeated again and again, only to be rebuffed.

Tanis and Kilfoyle write:

“For some time now, the parents of New York have been in full revolt over the testing requirements set down by both federal and state leadership. Parents of children with special needs have been extremely vocal about the fact that Common Core state tests in grades 3-8 are abusive and inappropriate for their children. You can read examples of parents informing Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch that these tests have harmed their children with special needs here, here, here, and here. Despite anecdotal stories of children engaging in self-injury and soiling themselves during state testing, Merryl Tisch blatantly ignored parent concerns and allowed testing abuses to continue. As a result, New York is experiencing the largest parent test revolt in education history…

“In fact, just a few months ago, Chancellor Tisch penned an editorial in which she criticized parents who planned to opt out of state assessments by asserting that opt out hurts the neediest children, characterizing opt out as “putting blinders on….”

They then link to an opinion article by Tisch in which she disparaged parents who opt out and insisted that the tests provide valuable information. Tisch wrote: “It’s time to stop making noise to protect the adults and start speaking up for the students.”

They note:

“As Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch is keenly aware of the fact that a current 5th grade student with a disability who receives a testing accommodation of extended time may sit for as long as 9 hours over the course of 3 days for a single exam. Despite being aware of this and other egregious examples of abuse, the Chancellor has done nothing to lessen the duration of testing or to mediate the harm to students. Rather, she has overseen changes to the New York State testing program that have doubled and in some instances, tripled the length of testing and allowed the inclusion of reading passages years above grade level.”

They conclude:

“The Chancellor’s actions are tantamount to sitting by and not only watching, but commissioning the abuse of the most vulnerable children. Her failure to inform special needs parents of the potential for harm while simultaneously encouraging them to subject their children to inappropriate tests is inexcusable.

“Merryl Tisch should immediately relinquish her Chancellorship and step down from the Board of Regents. Failing her resignation, parents and educators must urge their legislators NOT to reappoint to Merryl Tisch to the Board of Regents when her term expires next year. New York needs education leadership that will protect our children, not lead them to harm.”

Geoff Decker in Chalkbeat New York reports that the Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents said that if she had a child with special needs, she would think twice about letting the child take the state tests.

“New York’s top education official, who sharply criticized parents who might keep their children from taking state tests a few months ago, offered a different message for parents of some students with special needs on Monday.
“Personally, I would say that if I was the mother of a student with a certain type of disability, I would think twice before I allowed my child to sit through an exam that was incomprehensible to them,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in Albany.

Tisch’s remarks came after federal education officials rejected New York’s request to loosen testing requirements for some high-needs students in June. The waiver would have exempted English language learners who have attended U.S. schools for less than two years from taking the tests, and assessed students with severe disabilities based on their instructional level, rather than their age-based grade…

Never before has Tisch supported opting out as a reasonable response to unreasonable demands.

The state’s “request to exempt certain high-need students from some testing requirements was denied. Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote that the current testing requirements were necessary to ensure that academic progress of all students is properly tracked.”

This is the height of absurdity. If a child has cognitive impairments so severe that he or she cannot understand the test, what exactly is the point of forcing the child to take the test. If the teacher knows that the child is certain to fail because of his or her disabilities, requiring the test is akin to child abuse.

Last year in Florida, the state compelled a dying child to take the state tests. At what point does a society come to realize that policymakers who impose such draconian mandates don’t care about children? When common sense and common decency are gone, what is left but an empty bureaucratic shell?

Where are the lawyers?

Paul Karrer teaches fifth grade in a high-needs school in Castroville, California. He writes for California newspapers, trying to bring a realistic perspective to education debates.

In this article, he calls out “reformers” for believing in magic and silver bullets.

He writes:

“Education reform (education deform) is doing kids, the profession, and the country short-term and long-term harm. Ed Reform Inc. “believes” in short fixes, silver bullets, the power of personal cult persuasion, mantras, and now the twin goddesses of all – technology and data.

“More than half of all children in United States now live in poverty (Washington Post/UNICEF). As someone who has taught in a financially-socially challenged district for many years I can attest to the overwhelming negative influences of poverty. They are both direct and indirect. What is now normal in many communities was not the norm too long ago. The influences are single parent families, multiple families living under one roof, incarcerated family members, under-employment, no employment, no history of employment, poor language skills, the culture of poverty, early birthing, poor neonatal care, high percentages of children with unbelievable disabilities, addictions, and GANGS, globalization, and the death of low-level jobs due to technology.

“These variables cannot be pooh-poohed. Absurd belief in words like GRIT and EVIDENCE and TESTING – currently trending by Ed Reform — simply cannot overcome the long list of negatives. But Ed Reform claims they do….

“I believe a needs formula is required in schools of poverty. We need to save those desperate kids. If a classroom has X amount of special ed kids, X amount of incarcerated relatives, scores X on reading or math, has more than X amount of people residing in one house (or room), more than X amount of kids on Section 8 housing, more than X amount of kids in Title 1 programs — it should trigger an automatic cut in class size. There should be no more than 15 kids in such a class. Free pre-school needs to be mandatory. Wrap-around social services (nurses, shrinks, dentists, COUNSELORS, librarians, parent training, parental language classes) have to kick in. And kids need the classic, realistic school philosophy of teach THE WHOLE STUDENT….

“Ed Reform’s solution is curriculum. Common Core will change it all, they declare. The curriculum is not the problem. But that is where the financial feed trough is these days. And even the biggest promoter of Common Core, Bill Gates himself, said, “It will take 10 – 15 years to see if this is successful.”

“How nice,” I say.

“And in the meantime Ed Reform gets to close public schools (Chicago, Louisiana) defraud the public with for-profit institutions (Corinthian/Heald), pay their owners huge obscene salaries, and they destroy public education with a thousand strokes.

“Funny thing about the Ed Reform group – they espouse so much in favor of big business, profits, monetizing, reducing costs. Except for their very own rock core belief in supply and demand.

“Supply and demand doesn’t pertain to teachers? Teachers apparently are supposed to work for a pittance. But if they are to be the solution, they need to be paid much better so as to attract more candidates to the field. But Ed Reform chokes there.

“Smaller class size is the beginning of a real solution. Put the money where it will do KIDS the most good.

“Oh yes, and have your kids opt out of testing — especially next year when it counts.”

Dawn Neely Randall, a teacher in Ohio, is a passionate crusader for the rights of children. She posted this comment on the blog.

“Let me just tell you what stands out the most to me from a meeting I attended with legislators and educators about high stakes testing after school tonight. It wasn’t what the Senator said. It wasn’t what the State Rep. said. It wasn’t that the president of the college attended. It wasn’t that there were superintendents there (and I finally had the opportunity to mention how many were bullying parents for opting their children out of tests).

“What was it that stood out? It was the comment made by a teacher of special needs students who said that she had one student who pulled out every single eyelash the child had during all the hours of PARCC testing. Every. Single. Eyelash. Let that one settle on you for awhile.”

Julian Vasquez Heilig reports that the school board of Santa Ana, CA, will decide today whether to hire TFA to teach students with disabilities.

Why would anyone hire the least experienced, least prepared youngsters to teach children with the greatest needs?

Mary Nelson, the mother of a 9-year-old boy with disabilities, wanted to opt her child out of state testing, but the law doesn’t permit opting out.


She wrote a heart-wrenching story about her efforts to get him excused from what she knew would be a painful and humiliating experience for him, but the bureaucracy could say only that there is no opting out, no excuses. They even insisted that they were protecting his “rights” by requiring him to take tests that he could not pass.


She wrote:


I am the mother of a wonderful 9-year-old who has some learning differences. His challenges make school days very hard. He has fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorder and mood disorder. Quite a list for such a little guy. To say we have had a rough time at school is an understatement.


At my son’s last Individualized Education Program meeting, considerable time was spent discussing how to help him get through the English Language Arts benchmarks and the End of Grade tests.


It was the consensus of his team that the tests were above his ability. Why should he be required to take tests that are above his ability when we already know what the results will be? The answer: “It’s the law.”


As his mother, I have spent all his life trying to protect him and doing what I believed to be best for him. So this did not sit well. I envisioned him having to sit at a desk for three hours at a time, trying to answer questions he doesn’t know the answers to. To me, that is child abuse. State and federal leaders are currently debating how many standardized tests children should be required to take and whether parents should have the choice to opt out of tests they see as harmful to their children. These leaders need to pay closer attention to the experiences of children like my son.


Imagine if your boss told you that you needed to take a three-hour test and that, when you opened it, you discovered it was in Latin. What would you be feeling? Anxiety? Fear? Anger? Embarrassment? Am I going to lose my job? What will my boss think? Was I supposed to know this? If your boss told you not to worry, that it didn’t matter whether you knew the answers, would you believe it? If your performance didn’t matter, why would you be taking the test in the first place?


Now consider this happening to a 9-year-old with emotional issues. How, in good conscience, can I let this happen to my child?….


If you know anything about children with disabilities, you know that you can do things right 100 times and that all it takes is to do it wrong once and it’s like starting over. For what? Why can’t his school be allowed to make a sensible, child-centered decision? Why can’t I do what I know is right for my child? To me, this is just crazy.


Many state legislatures have established official opt-out procedures that recognize the right of parents to make decisions in the best interests of their children. If North Carolina’s legislators care about children like my son and about the rights of parents, they will take similar action.


Read more here:


The PTA of the Hastings-on-Hudson, Néw York, school district sent the following open letter to Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy charter schools. They shared it with me and asked me to post it.


Eva Moskowitz
Success Academy Charter Schools,
Chief Executive Officer

Dear Ms. Moskowitz:

We write in response to your recent comment to WNYC, explaining why Success Academy schools don’t accept new students after fourth grade: “It’s not really fair for the student in seventh grade or a high school student to have to be educated with a child who’s reading at a second or third grade level.”

As advocates for children, we are deeply troubled by your and Success Academy’s view. Many seventh graders who read at a second or third grade level are children with learning differences. These children already face huge obstacles and prejudices, even as research clearly supports that including these children in general education settings benefits all.

Inclusive classrooms, which comprise special education students and their general education peers, are academically, socially and emotionally beneficial to both groups. In fact, the advantages of such classrooms are so powerful and the outcomes often so successful that federal law requires that these children be placed with their non-disabled peers whenever possible (i.e., in the “least restrictive environment”). At a recent PTA meeting here in Hastings-on-Hudson, parents of general education students specifically asked for their children to be placed in inclusion classes, with their special education peers, once they learned more about the benefits to all that those classrooms produce, including more attention to differentiated learning, as well as additional teaching staff.

In addition, dismissing a child who is reading below-grade level puts too much emphasis on reading and ignores the myriad of other measures of achievement. A child who reads below grade level may excel in math or biology or be an exceptional artist, athlete, or musician.

We live in a diverse world, and it is our job and our duty to create environments that engender respect, support, and, possibly most important, empathy. The direction you advocate
— separating and rewarding just the highest achievers in selected subjects — does a disservice to all.

So while you state that including struggling readers is “not really fair” to your current Success Academy scholars, what saddens us – and feels truly unfair – is this layer of unnecessary and painful exclusion and hardship, in the name of protecting your high-achieving scholars, that you find appropriate and necessary.

We are happy to meet with you and explain these issues more deeply, if that would be helpful. And in any event, we ask that you issue an apology, and also that your schools make a concerted effort to include children with special needs or learning differences. It’s not only best practice, ethical, and fair, but it is the law.

Very truly yours,

Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board, Lisa Eggert Litvin and Jacqueline Weitzman, Co Presidents

Hastings-on-Hudson SEPTA (Special Education PTA) Executive Board, Nina Segal and Jennifer Cunningham, Co Presidents

(Note that we are sending this to the general information email for Success Academies, because after extensive online searches, as well as numerous phone calls to individual Success Academy Schools and to the State’s offices governing charters, we have been unable to obtain an accurate email address for you. We left a message at Success Academy’s business office (as it was called by a receptionist at one of the academies) explaining the gist of the letter and asking for your email. If we receive a response, we will forward to that address.)


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