Articles Posted in Special Education

Published on:

The ACLU recently reported a disturbing trend in American public schools. Teachers are more frequently turning to student resource officers when it comes to matters of classroom discipline. That’s true when there is a violent threat, but also true when a student is being disruptive or engaging in bullying behavior.

Render illustration of 'YOUTH BULLYING' title on the ground in a police arena. Police concept

Unfortunately, the growing reliance on other authority figures to mete out punishment is having drastic and far-reaching consequences. Many of the kids who are subjected to interaction with a student resource officer soon see their grades begin to plummet, and they are far more likely to drop out of school.

Many school districts now employ a police officer to help provide discipline and security on campus. These student resource officers, or SROs, used to be rare. Only one percent of U.S. schools had an SRO in 1975, but in recent years that number has surged to a police presence that amounts to 24 percent in elementary schools. A full 42 percent of high schools also have at least one SRO on campus.

In California alone during the 2013-2014 school year, 20,000 students received some form of discipline from an SRO. Most of these cases involved minor disruptions and rule infractions, things that teachers might have handled themselves some years ago. Of those 20,000 cases, 9,500 resulted in an arrest. Instead of going through some kind of disciplinary program at the school, these kids ended up in the criminal justice system, doubling their chances of dropping out.

The study also showed that a disproportionate number of students who have police interactions in schools are minorities, have disabilities or come from low-income neighborhoods. This suggests that the use of SROs in the classroom may be unfairly focused on these communities.

Most schools give teachers complete latitude regarding when to request SRO assistance. The ACLU suggests that schools write comprehensive guidelines regarding the circumstances under which SROs should get involved. Moreover, it is recommended that funds be diverted from SROs to the recruitment of counselors and mental health professionals so schools can better deal with disciplinary issues and the causes that underlie them.

Published on:

A Connecticut teen and his family are suing the boy’s former school. The lawsuit alleges that the boy was inappropriately expelled after an incident in which the boy is accused of selling pot-laced brownies to fellow students.

pot%20brownie%2070921206-001.jpgThe incident began on June 11, 2014. Joshua Walker-Thomas was an 18 year-old student at Metropolitan Learning Center, a magnet school for students in the sixth through twelfth grades. He and two accomplices, a boy and girl both aged 16, sold pot-laced brownies to eight students. One of the purchasers was later found by school officials in a stupor while hyperventilating. The student had to be transported to a hospital for treatment. Both Walker-Thomas and the 16 year-old girl were charged with risk of injury to a minor. Those felony charges are still pending. The third participant, who has not been identified because of his age, was not charged with a crime. Nonetheless, the school confronted him about his involvement. He was suspended from June 12 onward.

However, the lawsuit filed by this student’s family alleges that the school mishandled the suspension and subsequent expulsion from beginning to end. Among the allegations is the fact that the expulsion hearing did not occur until September when such hearings are supposed to take place a mere 10 days after the suspension, a requirement stipulated by state law. Moreover, the boy’s family argues that they were not informed about the expulsion hearing until the day before it occurred, giving them no opportunity to review the evidence. The lawsuit contends that the boy’s right to due process was ignored.

Other allegations also appear in the complaint. According to legal documents, the hearing officer at the expulsion hearing offered no evidence to support the possession or sale of illegal substances by the student. The lawsuit also protests that no audio recording was made of the hearing and further that the student’s diagnosis with ADHD was not taken into consideration.

School districts always need to ensure compliance with state laws when meting out disciplinary action.
Continue reading

Published on:

Public schools that are located in disadvantaged neighborhoods must deal with a complex problem every day. A number of their students is affected by trauma. Often this trauma is the result of being the victim of violence or witnessing violence. Sometimes the student is dealing with overwhelming poverty and unstable living conditions. Some must cope when a parent becomes incarcerated or passes away.

Psychology%20Brain%2081318172-001.jpgOne of the outcomes of this trauma is poor academic performance. Students who suffer this “complex trauma” have much greater chances of being suspended. Their grades are poor, and their attendance is spotty. Many of them never graduate. Some of them go directly from school into the jail system.

A recent lawsuit filed against the Compton Unified School District seeks to address these issues. The complaint argues that these students are suffering from complex trauma, which should be recognized as a disability. They cite evidence that children who live with trauma show different physical development in their brains and bodies as a result of this trauma. Thus, they should be considered a protected class.

Many of the children who experience trauma have behavioral problems or are overwhelmed by the conditions in which they live. The lawsuit argues that Compton Unified has not attempted to provide adequate accommodation for these students. It points out that students with obvious physical disabilities are given accommodations to make learning possible for them, and that students dealing with trauma should be similarly treated.

This lawsuit is just beginning. It seems clear that winning it will require a great deal of effort. While recognizing that the problem exists is an important first step, Compton Unified would have to come up with a comprehensive program to improve academic access for these children. The lawsuit suggests that the school district should provide mental health support for these students. Moreover, staff members should receive training that enables them to recognize trauma and deal effectively with it. A shift away from punishment for issues caused by trauma is also suggested.

Time will tell if Compton Unified will begin treating students affected by trauma as a protected class.

Published on:

Children with autism face a number of challenges. It isn’t easy for them to relate to others, and life changes can prove distinctly distressing for them. That’s why a practice of moving autistic children from one school to another in the Philadelphia School District with little warning was so troubling.

Special%20ed%20brain%20puzzle%2048932564-001.jpgParents whose autistic children attended public school in Philadelphia called the practice the “autism shuffle.” Children in kindergarten through eighth grade were subject to being moved from one school to another in order to receive the support they required. Some schools simply weren’t equipped to deal with the needs of autistic children as they advanced through grade levels. Essentially, the district had divided the support services into three categories. One for kindergarten through second grade, the next for third through fifth and the last for sixth through eighth. When a child was moving beyond the service level provided at their current school, they would be abruptly sent to another one. Parents had no input, and the transitions were often alarmingly difficult for the children.

A class action lawsuit was filed in an effort to improve the practice. Recently, a settlement was reached between the parents with autistic children and the school district. District officials have agreed to halt the practice of immediately moving children from one school to the next. Under the new deal, parents will be informed by January if the district expects their child to attend a different school in the fall. A formal notice letter will be sent out in June.

Parents have the right to meet with district officials to discuss the changes and, unlike before, they have plenty of time to do so. The new agreement also makes it easier for teachers to help their vulnerable students prepare for changes on the horizon. Best of all, the students themselves have time to adjust to the idea of attending school in a different environment. They may have time to visit the school before the term begins to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. The decision appears to be a win for the students and the district.

Published on:

Two Idaho school districts were able to fend off a lawsuit brought by the parents of a student with Asperger’s in a recent court decision. Jury members required six and a half hours to decide that the Boise and Meridian school districts had provided adequate accommodations for student Matthew Abramowski’s education.

Special%20ed%20brain%20puzzle%2048932564-001.jpgAbramowski moved to the Boise area with his parents in 2004. When he had previously been enrolled in a California school, Abramowski had been receiving special education services. Initially, he continued in this program in Idaho. However, the school district decided that the student should be placed in the mainstream educational program when he was in the eighth grade. Idaho school officials didn’t feel that Abramowski’s disabilities were severe enough to require him to continue with special education classes. Abramowski’s mother requested that he be independently evaluated, with the result being that Matthew was granted extra time to complete assignments and provided with other accommodations.

However, the Abramowski complaint alleges that the school districts did not do everything possible to accommodate Matthew’s special needs. The complaint stated that the district did not adequately prepare Matthew for life beyond school, and that a great deal of time and money will be required to retrain him for organizational and planning skills. Moreover, the lawsuit also cited instances of bullying by various classmates that teachers did little to address.

Ultimately, the jury found the complaint unpersuasive. U.S. District Judge Candy Dale dismissed the lawsuit in the wake of the jury’s decision. Nick Crawford, who was part of the school districts’ defense team, noted that the jury must have recognized that school staff and administration “did, in fact, care” and that reasonable accommodations had been made.

Charlene Quade, who was acting for the plaintiffs, disagrees. She believes that the federal law known as Section 504, which was relied upon in the complaint, is a complex one, implying that perhaps the jury did not fully grasp the issues at hand. The Abramowski family remains hopeful that the case will assist other schools to more effectively deal with students who have Asperger’s in the future.
Continue reading

Published on:

The welfare of a second grade student is at the heart of a retaliation lawsuit that was recently revived by a federal appeals court in Tennessee. In the initial complaint, the parents of a Shelby County, Tennessee school district student allege that their daughter’s school principal retaliated against them in response to their accommodation requests made in connection with the girl’s medical condition.

Retaliation%2032004699-001.jpgThe student, who is identified in the lawsuit only as A.C., suffers from Type I diabetes. In her three years at the Bon Lin Elementary School, A.C.’s parents made numerous requests for accommodation of their daughter’s condition. They asked that the student’s blood sugar be tested in the classroom by the school nurse rather than having their daughter go to the nurse’s office where she would regularly encounter sick children. This request was not granted, but others were. Among them were adding a full time nurse to the school staff and training teachers how to respond to a diabetic emergency.

Despite most of their accommodations being granted by the school, A.C.’s parents continued to agitate for further changes. The principal and other staff members became increasingly bewildered regarding how to respond to the numerous requests. When A.C.’s teacher observed her eating candy and cookies at school, alarm bells sounded for administrators. They came to the conclusion that A.C.’s parents were not appropriately attending to their daughter’s medical needs. This belief led to the principal contacting the Tennessee child services agency. The agency investigated the maltreatment claims, but ultimately declared them unfounded.

Nonetheless, the action prompted A.C.’s parents to initiate a lawsuit against the school district which asserted retaliation on the part of the principal in response to their accommodation requests. A summary judgment found in favor of the school district, but a three judge panel at the federal appeals court (view the opinion HERE) recently overturned that decision. The panel found that a jury could reasonably construe the report to the child services agency as a retaliatory act. Accordingly, this newly reopened case is likely to be tried in a court of law before a jury.

Published on:

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Hillsborough School District in Tampa, Florida for the death of a seven-year old girl with special needs. Although Isabella Herrera was confined to a wheelchair because of her muscular dystrophy, the seven-year old wanted to feel like the rest of her classmates; Isabella insisted that her mother let her ride the school bus.

School%20Bus%2043843684-001.jpgEven though it is clearly stated on Isabella’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), video footage from the school bus shows that neither the aide, Joanna Hamilton, nor the bus driver, Tonia Pizarro, properly tilted Isabella’s wheelchair. For seventeen minutes, Isabella’s unstable head bobbed backwards and forwards, and she started choking.

On January 25, 2012, Lisa Herrera, Isabella’s mother, received the call. Instead of calling 911, the aide on the school bus called the girl’s mother.

Isabella’s parents are outraged about how the adults on the bus reacted once they realized that something was wrong with Isabella. Even though Isabella had turned blue, video footage shows how neither the bus driver nor the aide ever called 911. The adults never tried to perform CPR on Isabella either. Ironically, the bus stopped in front of a pediatric clinic and neither Pizarro nor Hamilton tried to get help for Isabella. Isabella died the next day at the hospital.

Isabella’s parents are suing on the grounds of negligence. Her parents hope that their lawsuit will prevent other family’s from losing their children. They also feel that Isabella’s civil rights as a disabled person were violated when the school district failed to effectively meet Isabella’s transportation needs that are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

A spokesperson for the Hillsborough School District Stephen Hegarty, commented that their bus drivers do receive basic training in things like CPR. However, bus drivers and aides do not have to receive training for assisting children with special needs, even though this training is available. Hegarty claims that the school district is currently reevaluating its training policies.

Published on:

Slow readers in a fourth grade Idaho classroom were given an unusual menu of options as a result of not meeting their academic goals: miss recess or have their faces painted with magic markers by their classmates. Six students at Declo Elementary School in an Accelerated Reading program agreed to have their faces scribbled by peers as punishment for their poor reading performance.

child%20reading%2043946851-001.jpgAccording to various news reports, the Magic Valley students got creative with the magic markers. They drew mustaches, eyeglass frames and names in green, purple and red colors. A local news outlet reported that the mother of a 10-year old student was astonished to see her son’s entire face and eyelids covered in colorful, yet crude, scrawls. The face painting took place during morning period, which means that the students were branded the entire day of classes in shame.

The incident recalls the badge of shame worn by Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, down to the Puritan-like consensus and supervision by the teacher in charge. The educator, who is reported to have six years of teaching experience, has not answered to information requests by news reporters. The Cassia County School District Superintendent has confirmed the incident and explained that the face scribbling was supposed to be an incentive rather than a shaming.

Initial investigations by school officials revealed that a recent Parents-Teacher Organization event featured the painting of the Principal’s face and hair, but the Superintendent is concerned that such actions do not translate well when applied to children. Some parents are comparing the incident with bullying, while the parents of the students who met their reading goals do not think it was such a big deal. The problem, according to one grandparent, is that some of the marked children already deal with learning difficulties and self-esteem issues.

The judgment of the teacher is being questioned as the students’ reading adequacy is a significant part of her responsibility as an educator. After being absent for a couple of days, she is back in the classroom while the investigation continues.

Published on:

An Arizona school district is facing a lawsuit filed by parents who say their 7-year-old son was routinely kept locked in a five by six foot windowless padded room while other students were educated. Eric and Leslie Noyes say that school staff at Desert Sage Elementary School disobeyed their child’s doctor’s orders by feeding him foods that caused him to have allergic reactions, including behavioral difficulties. The Noyeses claim that school staff routinely induced their son’s reactions to the forbidden substances, then punished him severely for the reactions.

padded%20room%2038681100-001.jpgThe lawsuit (available HERE) accuses school staff of false imprisonment, committing assault and battery against T. N., gross negligence and intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the child. It asks for compensation for the medical treatment T. N. required as a result of the treatment he received, for the district to pay additional transportation costs required to send the boy to a school in another district and for general damages.

The Noyeses claim that they notified the school of their son’s strictly controlled, medically necessary diet. However, school officials continued to feed the boy restricted foods and forced him into the unventilated, windowless box as many as four times each week over the course of more than four months. Some confinements lasted for nearly the entire school day. Teachers used enough force to cause multiple bruises, including dragging T. N. and dropping him onto his head. One teacher even fell on him. Additionally, staff put pressure on T. N.’s back and forced him to lie with his face in the carpet, where he inhaled chemicals used to clean the carpet, causing severe allergic reactions.

T. N. suffered from respiratory distress and experienced panic attacks while he was in the box, according to the suit. He was not allowed to leave the box to urinate or defecate, and when forced to urinate on himself in the box, he received additional punishment, including being forced to disrobe in front of school staff.

As a result of his treatment at the hands of school officials, the lawsuit claims that T. N. suffers from constant anxiety and fear, accompanied by nightmares and other sleep disturbances, stomach pain and emotional problems. The boy’s parents state that, in violation of district rules, they were only notified that their son was being confined on two of the many occasions it occurred.

Published on:

A school district in Tucson, Ariz., has agreed to a settlement with a former employee who claimed she was fired for trying to get the district to adhere to federal disability laws. Tucson Unified School District will pay Rose Hamway, a former school psychologist for the district, $180,000.

Ignored%2017868637-001.jpgAccording to Hamway, who was forced to leave the district in 2010 after the school board refused to renew her contract, the problems began after she noted that some students’ federal rights were being violated. She sought the help of district officials to educate special education workers and school administrators about federal disability laws.

Instead of protecting students by ensuring the law was enforced, however, Hamway was disciplined for bringing the matter to the district’s attention. When violations continued unchecked, Hamway continued to advocate for students by telling special-education staff that if they didn’t obey the law she would share her concerns with the Arizona Department of Education. In response, the district reprimanded Hamway, specifically citing her threat to report illegal activity as the reason for their actions. Eventually, Hamway was let go over her insistence that the district comply with federal law.

In addition to the lawsuit, Hamway filed a discrimination complaint the the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education. In her complaint, Hamway described what she called a hostile work environment created by the district in response to her attempts to advocate for disabled students. The civil rights office substantiated her claims and continues to monitor the district. It also found that the district failed to address Hamway’s complaints on behalf of the school’s students.

In addition to paying Hamway, the school district was ordered to take corrective action that includes familiarizing staff and administrators with education on the regulations regarding retaliation and enforcing discrimination grievance procedures.