Archives for category: Special Education

Dr. Michael Hynes is the Superintendent of Schools in Port Washington, Long Island, New York.

He writes:


My daughter Sadie has taught me more in her 9 years of life than I have learned in my past 52 years of existence. My wife Erin and I had no idea that our daughter had Down Syndrome when she was born. Sadie had to stay in the newborn intensive care unit for a few weeks and we met some of the most compassionate and amazing professionals in the world. Unfortunately, we also met others who were much better off keeping their thoughts to themselves.


I remember a doctor at the hospital telling me he was “sorry” after Sadie was born. On another occasion, a family member shared with my wife and I that “Mongoloids can be nice people.” She didn’t mean to upset us; it was her mental model about Down Syndrome. Initially, as parents we were surprised with the multitude of closed-minded comments we came across. As Sadie grew and we brought her to restaurants, stores or in public, people would stare at her longer than one should.

I’m sharing this with you not to complain; but doing so because we began to learn how the world can perceive others without knowing anything about them whatsoever, except through the lenses of their biases and assumptions. Little did they know our little Sadie has the best sense of humor and can read on grade level like here peers. She enjoys music and hanging out with her best friends like all children do. As parents, we began to advocate for more programs in her school and for the school districts we served in.


I probably should have started off this reflection by sharing both Erin and I are school Superintendent’s. She is an Assist Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and I have served as a Superintendent of Schools for the past 11 years. Here are the lessons we learned from our personal lives that now transcend to our professional ones.

  1. You never know what others are going through. I have a much deeper respect for parents who have children with autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, OHI, etc. They have incredible stories to share, and we need to support them as much as their children.
  2. Never place limits on your child or students. Don’t accept what professionals say at face value all the time. If Erin and I listened to what some professionals believed Sadie would never be able to do, her life would be so much more unfulfilled. She is flourishing.
  3. In the education system I have served in for over 25 years, we need to remove the word “special education”. This word places a label on a child that never leaves them and carries a negative connotation with it. Yes, the children are “special”, but they are certainly not less than “typical children”. By the way I loath that phrase as well.
  4. Inclusion is important. Integration however is critical. It’s great to be included but to be fully integrated is where the secret sauce is. Separating and segregating children is not the answer. Teach them to become independent and watch them soar!

Sadie is now in 4th grade. She continues to surprise people with her intelligence, humor and at times stubbornness. We are so fortunate to have her in our lives. There are other “Sadie’s” in every school in America. Are we as school leaders doing everything in our power to make our school system more inclusive and integrated? That’s for you to answer and my hope is that you strive to make that a reality. Every child will benefit from it.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is a bully. He uses his power as Governor to force others to comply with his political ideology. Most recently, he forced the Special Olympics, which had chosen Florida for its competitions, to drop its vaccine requirement. This comes on the heels of an audit of Florida health data which found that the state had undercounted the numbers of COVID cases and deaths. Intentionally? DeSantis is probably the most likely Republican to run in 2024, if the aging Trump steps aside.

Rolling Stone and other publications reported the story:

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and his administration have used their authority to essentially punish organizations he deems to be insufficiently conservative. One of their latest targets is the Special Olympics. Jay O’Brien of ABC News reported on Friday that the governor threatened to levy an eight-figure fine against the Special Olympics if it didn’t drop its Covid-19 vaccine requirement for its games in Orlando this weekend.

The Special Olympics backed off its vaccine requirement hours later, saying in a statement, “We don’t want to fight. We want to play.”

A letter from the Florida Department of Health dated June 2 threatened to assess the Special Olympics a $27.5 million fine due to “5,500 violations” of state law prohibiting business entities (including charitable organizations) from requiring individuals to show proof of vaccination. The applicable fine per person under this law is $5,000.

DeSantis is a dangerous ideologue who disregards science and the lives of his constituents.

The latest news from Florida is that there is an outbreak of a new strain of omicron COVID virus. Governor DeSantis doesn’t care if anyone is vaccinated. He believes that “public health” is a private, individual decision and that government should do nothing to protect the public.

Pamela Lang, a parent of a child with special-needs in Arizona, wrote for Public Voices for Public Schools about her terrible experience finding a school for her son.

She writes:

I may not look like your typical public school advocate. I’m not opposed to private schools, and I even use a voucher for my son. I’ve also always loved public schools and advocated for our elected representatives to do a better job of funding and resourcing these valuable community institutions. Frustratingly, I’ve watched as morally-bankrupt radical special interests have spent decades undermining our public schools, chipping away at them year after year, until they start to buckle under the shear strain.

I would love to enroll my son at our local community public school. But I live in Arizona and my son has special needs, meaning the resources to educate my child here had already been stripped away through a myriad of defunding schemes. So my school choices were taken from me and I had to look around and see what options there were to find an education for my son. It turns out that I was the one who got an education. An education in the realities of living in a state at the forefront of “school choice” with a child who has unique and resource-intensive needs.

I decided to withdraw my son from our public school and take an Empowerment Scholarship Account voucher to help find him a place where his needs would be best met. Because of his disability, he qualified for roughly $40,000 per year on Arizona’s ESA voucher program, enough to fully cover the tuition at almost any school in the state. So we had choices. Or, we thought we had choices.

An often overlooked aspect of these voucher programs is they end up being publicly-funded education discrimination programs. Everywhere we went we were told my son would not be a good fit for their school and we were discouraged from even applying. We visited highly-rated private academies that touted their resources for special needs students only to be told his needs were too great, or that they weren’t right for us, and that they ended their special needs enrollment, while others who demanded to view my son’s files beforehand refused to even see us.

This entire situation is exacerbated by the reality that people pushing these privatization schemes and destroying public schools also require families like mine to give up federal protections for their children, as I had to do for my son because of his needs. We had to waive our federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) rights to be allowed to use the vouchers, meaning any private school that did accept him wasn’t legally required to provide him with adequate services. These issues could be addressed simply with minor legislation, but the lawmakers pushing these vouchers, while often parading special needs families around as the face of their privatization campaigns, have shown no interest in fixing these obvious problems. And that’s because they don’t really care about us. They didn’t care about my son when they diminished our public school’s capacity to care for and educate him, and they don’t care about my son when he’s using their prized vouchers.

We eventually found a microschool, one of the latest privatization schemes, that would take my son, only to find they were essentially abandoning him throughout the day and providing negligently minimal supervision, and this took us almost three years of continual searching to find.

It’s almost impossible to understand the environment that these “choice” programs create for desperate families. The amount of work I’ve had to invest just trying to find a private school simply willing to let my son in their doors has been exhausting. And that’s in addition to all the other resources necessary to make a private school work. I have to provide or secure transportation every day my son is in school. The workload is a lot for any family to take on, and in some cases the assault on public schooling is driving us to have no satisfying options.

The expansion of Torchlight Academy Schools in Raleigh, North Carolina, is in trouble. Despite their mishandling and misreporting of students in special education, their financial irregularities and missing records, they are still in business. The state charter board has closed two of their charters, but others are still operating, and Torchlight hopes to add more charters. One–the Three Rivers Academy–was closed in January after numerous deficiencies were identified. According to NC Policy Watch:

Don McQueen, operator of Three Rivers Academy, allegedly padded enrollment numbers, paid families so students would attend class, and took other extreme measures to ensure state per-pupil funds kept flowing to the troubled charter school in Bertie County.

The fate of another charter school run by the same management company will be decided at a meeting tonight of the state charter school board.

Station WRAL reports:

A state advisory board will discuss Monday the fate of a 600-student Raleigh charter school that is under fire for for its handling of special education programming.

Monday’s meeting will be the latest in a string of tense meetings with state charter school officials for Donnie McQueen, executive director of Torchlight Academy Schools. In less than a year, the state has revoked charters for two of his schools because of violations.

The meeting will take place just days after records show the state was still waiting for Torchlight Academy to produce financial and contractual records — including records that would be legally public for traditional public schools but that are not legally public for public charter schools…

The school is on the highest level of state noncompliance status, following state findings that the school had been “grossly negligent” in its oversight of the exceptional children program, also known as special education. The state is now overseeing, but not controlling, school finances.

The State Board of Education asked the Charter School Advisory Board to review:

  • Potential misuse of federal and state funds, including grant funds.
  • Governance concerns, including a lack of oversight.
  • Potential conflicts of interest by its principal and executive director — Cynthia and Donnie McQueen. Specifically, whether their actions on behalf of or in lieu of board of directors or management organization have benefited them personally…

The school has posted average performance grades and academic growth in recent years.

Last year, the state found the school didn’t properly implement the program as required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, altered and falsified student records, falsely reported training compliance, did not provide adequate access to student and finance records, and had unqualified staff.

The school protested being moved to the highest level of noncompliance, citing new training for staff and other changes the school was making to improve.

Officials complained of the voluminous records requested by the state and argued it was being treated differently than others schools…

Charter schools are public schools, but they are not subject to the same public disclosure laws as traditional public school districts. For example, charter schools don’t have to make employees’ salaries public. They also don’t need to disclose contracts, such as a lease contract.

The records the state sought related to financial documents included any records between the school or Torchlight Academy Schools and three organizations owned by other school officials.

Torchlight Academies currently manages two charters and hopes to manage another five.

Based on an appeal by parents of students with disabilities, a Federal Appeals Court supported mask mandates in school.

Federal Appeals Court Decision Ensures Iowa Schools Can Require Masking to Protect Students with Disabilities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Eva Lopez, ACLU, elopez@aclu.org

Veronica Fowler, ACLU of Iowa, veronica.fowler@aclu-ia.org, cell: 515-451-1777

DES MOINES, Iowa — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit today ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires schools to impose universal masking rules where necessary to ensure students with disabilities have access to public school education.

The decision comes in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Iowa, Disability Rights Iowa, The Arc of the United States, Arnold & Porter, and Duff Law Firm, P.L.C. on behalf of The Arc of Iowa and 11 parents of children with disabilities. The Eighth Circuit held that the clients are entitled to a preliminary injunction to ensure that the defendant school districts in Iowa are providing for universal masking as a reasonable accommodation so that students with disabilities can go to school safely.

“The Eighth Circuit affirmed what we’ve known to be true from the start: School mask mandate bans are discriminatory and illegal,” said Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program. “To be able to attend schools safely, many students with disabilities need their schools to require masks. At a time when COVID-19 is ravaging our communities once again, this decision ensures that schools can continue to take basic public health precautions like requiring universal masking to protect their students.”

A federal district court in September enjoined the state from barring mask mandates, recognizing that “forcing children to bear the brunt of societal discord is ‘illogical and unjust.’” The state then appealed that decision, resulting in today’s ruling.

“Today’s decision is an important victory for the civil rights of children with disabilities in Iowa, who have a right to go to school with their peers,” said Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa. “No parent should have to choose between their child’s health and safety and their education, but that is the terrible position that the state put our clients in. It’s important to note that the court’s reasoning also means that even schools that are not named in the lawsuit should be requiring masks when needed to accommodate students with disabilities so they can go to school with their peers. This decision is a huge relief to families across our state.”

The groups are arguing in the lawsuit that federal civil rights laws require schools to be able to require universal masking to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their public education.

The following are additional comments from:

Shira Wakschlag, senior director, legal advocacy and general counsel at The Arc of the United States:

“In the midst of yet another COVID-19 surge, the court is making it clear that students with disabilities have the right to go to school safely during this pandemic. The Arc will continue fighting to ensure that students with disabilities in Iowa and nationwide are able to attend their neighborhood schools alongside their peers without putting their health and their lives at risk.”

Catherine E. Johnson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa:

“I welcome today’s ruling that universal masking as an accommodation is both reasonable and necessary for students with disabilities to attend school in-person safely during the ongoing pandemic. This ruling comes during a time when Iowa is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases throughout the state. We are hopeful this opinion provides relief, confidence and clarity for parents, students, and schools to work collaboratively to restore our students’ long established civil rights under federal law and safely return our students with disabilities to their schools.”

This release is available online here:https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/federal-appeals-court-decision-ensures-iowa-schools-can-require-masking-protect

Texas has gone overboard for charter schools, even though they consistently post worse results than public schools. In the state’s new plans, charter schools will not be held accountable for the performance of English-language learners or students with disabilities. That is grossly unfair to public schools but it should raise the ratings of charter schools.

A trusted friend who works for the Texas Education Agency sent this information:

The proposed Texas Charter School Performance Framework for 2020 has been posted for public comment. On page 19, in the Operations standards, “Program requirements: Special populations” and “Program requirements: Bilingual education/English as a second language populations” are marked as “N/A for 2020” instead of each counting for one point. These indicators, 3b and 3c, are struck out on page 20. There does not appear to be an explanation for these changes.
Appropriate handling of assessments is another deletion from the Operations standards on pages 23-24.
Due to the lack of academic accountability, the manual will reflect fiscal and operational indicators only, not academic indicators.

https://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/fidsreg/202103289-1.pdf

There are no academic indicators, which makes sense because there were no tests in 2020. But the state officials removed the program indicators for bilingual and special education populations from the Operations standards on which charter schools will still be rated. These indicators measure if charters meet program requirements such as employing certified teachers in these areas.

This is not the only exception made for charter schools. Those that get a D or F rating three years in a row are supposed to be closed by the state, but that accountability is seldom enforced. Indeed, the state allows failing charters to expand.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the state of South Carolina for its law banning mask mandates, on grounds that such a ban jeopardizes students with disabilities.

The ACLU released the following explanation:

Right now, schools are resuming during yet another pandemic surge. And in some states, instead of working to keep students and teachers safe, lawmakers are deliberately rejecting urgent public health guidance.

One key state to watch is South Carolina, where a budget provision passed this summer that prohibits public school districts from requiring masks.

South Carolina’s law endangers everyone, but particularly targets students with disabilities that put them at higher risk for severe illness, lingering disabilities, or even death due to COVID-19. As a result, lawmakers have effectively excluded students with disabilities from public schools.

That’s why we’re calling on the courts to intervene. This week, we filed a federal lawsuit challenging South Carolina’s ban on mask mandates in schools, on behalf of Disability Rights South Carolina, Able South Carolina, and parents of students with disabilities.

When schools are prohibited from taking reasonable steps to protect the health of their students, the parents of children with disabilities are forced to make an impossible choice: their child’s education, or their health.

And under federal disability rights laws, public schools cannot exclude students with disabilities, nor can they segregate them or offer lesser services by requiring them to learn from home.

Let’s be clear: Schools are obligated to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from a public education. State politicians cannot override federal disability rights laws.

SC’s law flies in the face of public health guidelines from the CDC, from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, from the American Association of Pediatrics, from the American Medical Association, as well as advice from hundreds of physicians and educators across the state. All recommend universal masking.

Refusing to follow public health guidelines disproportionately endangers students with disabilities who have health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.

Regardless of where you live, what happens in a state like South Carolina – which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country – impacts all of us. We won’t stop fighting to guard our civil rights and liberties during this pandemic – in all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Please stay tuned for more updates and thanks for all you do.

Suzan Mizner
Pronouns: She, her, hers
Director of the ACLU Disability Rights Program

Success Academy charter network was directed by a federal district court judge to pay $2.4 million to families whose children with disabilities were pushed out.

Charter school network Success Academy, which touts its commitment to children “from all backgrounds,” has been ordered to pay over $2.4 million on a Judgment in a case brought by families of five young Black students with learning and other disabilities who sued after the children were pushed out of a Success Academy school in Brooklyn. Success Academy’s efforts to oust the children even included the creation of a “Got to Go” list, as reported by the New York Times in October 2015, which singled out the students they wanted to push out, including the five child plaintiffs.

The lawsuit, brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Advocates for Justice, and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, concluded on March 10, 2021 with Senior United States District Judge Frederic Block’s ruling, which included a precedent-setting determination that federal disability discrimination laws authorize reimbursement of expert fees.

The case charged that Success Academy engaged in practices targeting students with disabilities, in order to force them to withdraw. The practices detailed in the suit included regularly removing the children from the classroom and calling the parents multiple times daily.

“This Judgment provides justice to the children and families who suffered so much,” said Christopher Schuyler, a senior attorney in the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “It also underscores the need for schools to cease doling out harsh punishments for minor infractions that can interrupt children’s academic progress and divert them into the school-to-prison pipeline.”

“Success Academy’s harsh, inflexible, one-size-fits-all approach to discipline is at odds with its obligation to reasonably accommodate students’ disabilities,” noted Kayley McGrath, an associate in Stroock’s Litigation Group. “These children and their families were forced to withdraw from the Success Academy network not only because their educational needs were not being met, but also because they were explicitly not welcome there. This Judgment recognizes that children with disabilities deserve access to an accommodating learning environment that approaches their needs not with contempt, but with empathy.”

“Success Academy forced these families to withdraw their children by bullying and daily harassment, instead of providing a quality education free from discrimination,” said Laura D. Barbieri, Special Counsel to Advocates for Justice. “New York’s parents and children deserve better, and we are pleased these families achieved justice.”

The litigation centered on five children, then a mere 4 to 5 years old, with diagnosed or perceived disabilities. Success Academy did not provide appropriate accommodations, and frequently dismissed the students prior to the end of the school day – often for behaviors like fidgeting and pouting.  Success Academy also threatened to call child welfare authorities to investigate the children’s families, and even sent one child to a hospital psychiatric unit. Each family eventually removed their child from the Success Academy network.


Nancy Bailey is hopeful that 2021 will bring a new agenda for public schools and their students and teachers.

All are worried about the pandemic and whether there will be the resources to protect students and staff.

There will surely be a teacher shortage due to the numbers of teachers who felt threatened by returning to school when it was not safe, as well as the necessity to reduce class sizes to make social distancing a reality.

The need for social justice should be high on the agenda, and it has nothing to do with vouchers and school choice.

Students with disabilities have been seriously affected by the pandemic and need extra instruction and resources.

The pandemic threw a harsh light on the condition of school infrastructure. Many states have not invested in school facilities. Will they?

The arts were dropped in many schools during the disastrous reign of NCLB and Race to the Top. Today they are needed more than ever.

What will become of assessment? Will the new Secretary follow those who think that testing produces equity? Or will he listen to teachers and parents? Twenty years of federally mandated testing produced a static status quo, locking the neediest students into their place in the social hierarchy and denying them equality of educational opportunity.

The New York Times published an editorial correctly blasting Betsy DeVos as the worst Secretary of Education in the 40-year history of the Department of Education. Unfortunately, the balance of the editorial was a plea to administer tests to find out how far the nation’s children had fallen behind because of the pandemic.

This is a misguided proposal, as I have explained many times on this blog. See here.

The Times wrote in this editorial:

Given a shortage of testing data for Black, Hispanic and poor children, it could well be that these groups have fared worse in the pandemic than their white or more affluent peers. The country needs specific information on how these subgroups are doing so that it can allocate educational resources strategically.

Beyond that, parents need to know where their children stand after such a sustained period without much face-to-face instruction. Given these realities, the new education secretary — whoever he or she turns out to be — should resist calls to put off annual student testing.

The annual federally mandated testing will not answer these questions, at a cost of $1 billion or more.

The information the Times wants could have been efficiently collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests scientific samples of students in reading and mathematics every other year. The cost would have been substantially less than testing every single student in grades 3-8.

But DeVos canceled the 2021 administration of NAEP. NAEP would have provided voluminous amounts of data about student progress, disaggregated by race, gender, English learner status, and disability status. Everything the Times’ editorial board wants to know would have been reported by NAEP, with no stakes for students, teachers, and schools. No student takes the entire test. The sampling is designed to establish an accurate snapshot of every defined group, and there is a timeline stretching back over decades.

So now, as the editorial demonstrates, the pressure is on to give the annual tests to every single student. The results will be useless. The teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions, never allowed to discuss them, and never allowed to learn how individual students performed on specific questions. The results will be reported 4-6 months after students take the test. The students will have a new teacher. The students will get a score, but no one will get any information about what students do or don’t know.

The tests will show that students in affluent districts have higher scores than students who live in poor districts. Students who are English language learners and students with disabilities, on a average, will have lower scores than students who are fluent in English and those without disabilities. This is not a surprise. This is what the tests show every year.

If Secretary-designate Cardona needs to know how to allocate resources, he doesn’t need the annual tests for direction. He already knows what the tests will tell him. Federal funds should go where the needs are greatest, where low-income students are concentrated, where the numbers of English learners and students with disabilities are concentrated. The nation doesn’t need to spend $1 billion, more or less, to confirm the obvious.

Anyone who thinks that it is necessary or fair to give standardized tests this spring is out of touch with the realities of schooling. More important than test scores right now is the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff.

Advice to the New York Times editorial board: Talk to teachers.