Friday, November 28, 2008
By Jennifer Searcy
Founder/Director of Public Policy and Affairs
The Coalition for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
We recently came across an article published on BerksMontNews.com on Tuesday, November 25, 2008 titled, "District Shares Struggles with Special Education."
The article was about a school board, for Exeter Township School District in Reading, Pennsylvania, that decided to approve 3 settlements the school district had wanted to enter into with parents and to publicize certain information about those agreements; namely, the dollar amounts of the agreements - and not much else.
Since nothing in policy dictates that this information cannot be made available to the public, the district apparently felt the need to "expose" to taxpayers how much of their money is being "wasted" ostensibly because of "frivolous parental demands."
Russell Diesinger, who is vice president of Exeter's board of school directors - who also voted "no" twice on the settlement agreements - was quoted as saying he "believe[s] these folks that pay their taxes and are concerned about where tax money goes need to be made aware of the demands that are put on these district [sic] by these special education suits."
He went on to add, "I will tell you these people do the best they can in very difficult situations meeting the needs of children of great need," Diesinger said. "Unfortunately, the courts don't view it that way. The courts look for whatever reason there is and we end up in these settlements. Unfortunately, it costs the taxpayers in this community a lot of money."
Superintendent Linton added, "These are federal laws passed down by the state and the state tells us what to do. We have very little control over these issues."
The district is making some pretty powerful statements, so let's just "roll them around" for a little bit and see if those claims have merit.
First, yes, Due Process hearings can be costly, in both time, money and resources, and EVERYONE should be concerned any time a Due Process Hearing is requested.
And second, yes, there ARE federal and state laws that specifically lay out a districts' obligations to educate children with disabilities.
Those are two undisputed facts.
But what about the other claims the district has made?
For one thing, this article doesn't indicate whether the DISTRICT brought these suits against the parents or if the parents felt they had no choice but to bring the suits against the district.
Because, believe it or not, districts DO frequently file for due process, usually to intimidate and/or bully the parents into doing something the district wants, but the parents don't want (for example, to agree to a placement the parents don't feel is appropriate, or to agree to discontinue therapies or services they'd really rather not).
And if a parent has filed, it's not likely over something frivolous - but something important, like denials for needed services or violations of federal and/or state laws. Because unlike what the district would like the public to believe, retaining an attorney is NOT cheap, and representing yourself pro se is NOT easy. I can assure you of that from experience.
You wouldn't know it from reading this article, though, and that's what districts like these count count on: a lack of general knowledge about special education law and the special education protections under those laws, including the right to Due Process whenever "disagreements" cannot be resolved through the IEP process for whatever reason.
But would the picture change ever-so-slightly when it's the district who is willfully spending tax dollars to take parents to Due Process?
Additionally, school districts traditionally keep attorneys ON RETAINER, at TAXPAYER EXPENSE, just in case a parent EVER has the audacity to challenge the district through due process, regardless if it is the school district or the parent making the due process hearing request, rather than HIRE ATTORNEYS ONLY WHEN ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY whenever a due process is requested.
In essence, tax dollars are ALREADY being wasted on attorney fees regardless of whether there is an active or pending due process case because the district is already paying to use an attorney.
The questions then are as follows:
"Does Exeter School District keep an attorney on retainer for Due Process cases? How much money has Exeter School district spent on attorneys' fees?"
If the district has ever used the services of an attorney for a due process hearing, then they are the ones "wasting taxpayer dollars"; they are the hypocrites. Because as we understand it, a school district doesn't HAVE to hire an attorney to represent it, rather it chooses to do so; a district can represent itself without legal counsel (pro se) just as PARENTS may represent themselves without legal counsel.
Who, then, are they to criticize parents - who must pay for their attorney fees generally out of their own pockets, not the districts or taxpayers, and in advance, that's if they can even AFFORD to hire an attorney - for "wasting taxpayer dollars" when the districts are the ones who must hire and/or retain the services of an attorney - using taxpayer dollars - for "potential" and/or realized services?
"Has the district EVER requested due process and how many have they requested?" If they have made a request even ONCE, they are again being hypocritical because there are other avenues that could be explored, like facilitated IEP's and mediation, that cost the taxpayer NOTHING.
"Is it fiscally more expensive to go through Due Process and/or agree to settlements than to provide the requested services, OR would it be more cost efficient and/or fiscally responsible (in time, money, and resources) to provide those requested services when first asked to do so?"
Attorneys fees are not cheap. How much is the district, and therefore taxpayers, paying those attorneys anyway? How much would it cost to provide the services the parents want? Which is less expensive - and less problematic - in the long run?
Next, "Why did the district want to settle ANY of these cases in the first place?"
"If the district is so innocent and did nothing wrong, but are simply victims of an "unfair system" which keeps them "enslaved" by "unreasonable laws" - why didn't they allow the due process to move forward?"
It's common knowledge in the educational field that Due Process cases are found traditionally more IN districts' favor and AGAINST parents' than vice versa in PA and in many other states.
Some hearing officers even have a history of ruling much more favorably for districts than others, depending upon the hearing officer and the districts' "connections"- which is why advocates like me are DEMANDING changes in how the Office for Dispute Resolution operates.
So why did the district want to settle?
Unless they weren't as innocent as they claimed.
If the hearing officer found in the district's favor (and, again, the odds were most likely IN their favor) it would most likely have been CHEAPER than agreeing to settle with the parents, because most settlement agreements are written in such a way that districts pay all attorneys fees, including those of the parents, in addition to the "payoff" amount.
Another question to consider:
"Who proposed those settlements in the first place?"
Usually it's not the parents' attorneys or the parents' themselves if represented pro se that ask for a settlement - but rather school districts in general traditionally offer to settle ONLY the cases they feel they CANNOT win - which is a strong indicator, if not outright admission, that they have violated federal and/or state laws in some way.
Districts also LIKE settlements because almost ALL of them are ONLY offered with the proviso that the parents must sign a confidentiality waiver which says THEY AGREE NOT TO TALK ABOUT THEIR SITUATION FURTHER.
This way districts can continue to violate the same laws or deny the same services to others that was the "CAUSE" of the Due Process in the first place.
Then the district plays Russian Roulette again until and/or if called out by another parent. And then they offer to settle again. And again. And again.
And they can get away with it. Because parents' voices are effectively stifled.
This is why districts are able to get away with abuse of their power - because if the parents say anything, then THEY have violated the settlement agreement and can/will lose everything they may have gained. Including the "settlement dollar amount."
I don't know about you, but I'm a little tired of the bias being perpetuated against us "overbearing parents who expect miracles from children who have 'no future', but to be a further drain on society's limited resources," yet the "poor district" has to legally "do everything they can for us" because federal and state laws SAY they have to, and they know they're providing "everything they can for us" because THEY SAID SO.
And we should be able to trust them, right? Because they'd NEVER lie to us, they'd never, ever, ever do anything illegal. Really, why would they? They're educators and the future of society, nay, the very world, is on their shoulders.
They're trying soooo hard, after all, giving their all, but our children are just virtually impossible to work with. And their parents? Well, they're even WORSE.
Not to mention these poor districts just don't have the money to offer the best services possible, as we ungrateful parents demand, all the while hinting that it's because of the "parents' delusions about their child, and their child's 'abilities' (or rather DIS-abilities) and our inability to accept reality."
Yet they fail to mention that not only do they receive more money from the government for special education students so they CAN provide them with "extra, special services," but also the fact that most services (expenses) could be and most likely ARE reimbursed in full to the districts through the child's Medicaid - which the child most likely receives, as they qualify because of their disability.
The districts also fail to mention that the money they receive for special education doesn't have to be "accounted for." What that means is that the money doesn't have to be designated or remain in its own "fiscal category" or "account"; monies received for "special education," including insurance payments to the best of our knowledge and experience, are permitted to be transferred into a school's general education fund.
That GENERAL FUND is just as it sounds; monies that can be used on whatever a district wants, even if it's astro-turf, band instruments, or football uniforms, and not necessarily the special education services they'd received the monies for.
So the argument that the "funds just aren't there," or "we don't have the money" are automatically suspect, not for the fact that the money isn't or wasn't there to begin with, but that it was and should be.
Nope, we PARENTS are causing TAXPAYERS and SCHOOLS undue financial hardship every time a due process request is made. Everyone else is just an innocent by-stander.
And ya know, parents are just rushing left and right to make these "demands" on schools right away. That's why there's just soooo many due process hearings.
How many due process cases are heard a year again?
According to the Office of Dispute Resolution, the agency responsible for handling Due Process cases in PA, 822 requests were filed in PA from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008 , but only 663 requests in the whole state were heard.
Let me repeat that: 663 requests were heard in the WHOLE ENTIRE STATE in a single year. (http://odr.pattan.net/files/ODRStats/cum_07_08_dp.pdf)
Out of the 1,821,383 eligible children receiving special education services in PA. (PA Dept. of Education, Special Education Statistical Summary, 2006-2007, page 147).
Oh, and in Exeter school district from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008, only 6 Due Process Hearings were filed; 5 were heard, 1 was withdrawn.
Four of the 5 that were heard were resolved with "agreements." (PA Dept of Education, Special Education Statistical Summary 2006-2007 - no page number given, please scroll down or "find" Exeter to confirm information)
Out of 648 children identified as eligible for and in receipt of special education services in Exeter schools. (Exeter Special Education report filed with the PA Dept of Education.)
So yeah, you can really tell we've given up even TRYING to work with the "poor, financially strapped districts" like Exeter, because we parents are filing all these Due Process hearing requests.
We parents also have all this money to hire an attorney to represent us. (Oh, what was that about Winkleman vs Parma and parents winning the ability to represent themselves pro se because we CAN'T afford to hire attorneys, yet school districts CAN afford to spend OUR TAX DOLLARS to keep attorneys ON RETAINER or HIRE ONE just IN CASE a parent decides to challenge the school? Hmmm, I must be mistaken.)
And we have so much time to prepare and file all those LEGAL documents, gather expert witnesses, and prepare oral and written testimony just as if we were going to a "real" court trial, because it's not like this is a "real" court case anyway. Despite the fact that hearing officers CAN issue summary judgments and demand restitution, just like "real judges."
Because we don't need to take our children to therapies or specialists in addition to what the school might offer. We don't have to spend more time helping them with their homework than we might our non-disabled children, children who also get all the love, time, and attention from us that they need; time that is not taken from them because a brother or sister with a disability is in the middle of a daily after-school meltdown. We don't have any additional family obligations or work obligations pressing upon us. We don't have to spend time researching and interpreting laws and trying to make sense of them, or trying to locate advocates for help. Nope, we have all the time in the world.
I suppose our children aren't "real" either.
And it's not the fact that we parents have to practically beg and plead the district on hands and knees for EVERY LITTLE THING or that Due Process is a LAST RESORT when our kids are denied necessary services.
Nope, school districts do everything in their power and within their means to give us parents all that they can.
Like safe transportation to and from school or ANY transportation at all (Yeah, because I didn't have to call the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to file a complaint on our district when they REFUSED to transport my child because she has epilepsy and might have a seizure on the bus, therefore I must take her EVERY DAY.)
Like staff who are trained in our kids disabilities so we parents can send our kids to school safely and they can teach our kids in ways our kids can understand (You know, because my daughter really was "just" daydreaming or falling down because she's "just" a klutz, not because of seizures. Oh, and that behavior - totally "not autistic" - because her teacher and the Dir. of Special Education don't think she "looks" autistic, so she must instead be "emotionally disturbed." And no, they didn't just conveniently ignore the multiple medical and psychological reports confirming her multiple disabilities, after all, they're TRAINED.)
Like a permanent nurse on staff in the school every day for more medically fragile kids (who have just as many, if not more, legal rights to be there as their non-disabled peers), rather than a "hit or miss" situation if their "roaming nurse" happens to be in another building during a medical emergency. ("But you're more than welcome to stay with her on the days the nurse can't be here.")
And no I didn't need to file a 20 page civil rights complaint against my district when she was abused in school by school staff, because they wouldn't DARE violate federal law. Because it NEVER happened. Honestly, her grandmother must have imagined those two aides holding her down in a chair by her arms, with them standing behind her, pushing her chair against a desk so hard and so far she could hardly breath and couldn't do more but kick and struggle to call for help, and I must have imagined the finger-print-like red marks on her arms right after it "didn't happen."
Gee, wonder why we needed federal and state laws to specifically outline a district's obligations to kids with special needs in the first place? Wonder why there are Protection and Advocacy's and other Disability Rights organizations popping up, if there's no need? It couldn't have been because children with disabilities were being denied services or otherwise discriminated against, even abused, because schools are/were only trying to do the "right thing."
Here's a plea to districts like these:
"Puh-lease get over yourselves and YOUR delusions of selflessness. Stop acting like you deserve a gold medal just because YOU 'allow' our kids to step foot in your 'hallowed halls.'
It is YOU who should be honored that we trust you enough to "do right" by our kids; that we trust and expect you to give them the education, skills, and tools they need to function as best they can in society in a SAFE environment by staff who care for and about them; that WE send OUR kids to YOUR schools because of the wealth of knowledge YOU and your STAFF can gain by working with them, rather than 'around' them.
Not to mention the benefits all children, not just those with disabilities, could glean in return by spending time with children who are different from them, learning about and with them.
Who knows, maybe you could all even be better people because of them. If you give them a chance, that is.
My daughter attended one of your wonderful public schools in Southwestern PA, and you know what? She was abused by the very same people who told ME the same thing: "We're doing all we can." And then THEY filed for due process. And I represented myself pro se and got the hearing officer to toss the whole thing because they didn't provide the hearing officer with "sufficient information" and refused to "provide sufficient information."
Well, they were right about one thing, at least. They WEREN'T appropriate and refused to even try to BE appropriate.
Why would I want to put my straight A daughter, who had been in a general education classroom FULL TIME with few behavior problems who CAN LEARN, into any of your schools or any you recommend, when you've asked me to give you permission to restrain my child "at staff discretion?"
Because not having restraints written into her behavior plan or IEP with my signature on file allowing you to abuse her was what got you in trouble with the Dept of Ed in the first place.
There's a reason why I'm now homeschooling. "
To my readers: Please join me in writing to Heather Tassmer, the author of the original article, to ask for a follow up investigation - one that gives a more complete "view" of the situation; one that asks that the "other side" be heard. She can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 610-367-6041, ext.225.
About the author:
Jennifer Searcy is the mother of four daughters, ages seven through 13. Her nine year old daughter was diagnosed with epilespy at 15 months and PDDNOS by age 2 1/2. This daughter was illegally and inappropriately restrained in a public school on October 19, 2006 at age 7.
She is also a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, holding a bachelor of science degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in psychology, and was a co-founder of Families Against Restraint and Seclusion and Pennsylvania Families Against Restraint and Seclusion.
She is currently the Founder and Director of Public Policy and Affairs for The Coalition for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and is a volunteer for The Arc of PA's Systems Advocacy and Governmental Affairs Sub-Committee for Early/Childhood Education.
Posted on Tue, Nov 25, 2008
By Heather Tassmer; News Editor
Exeter school board and district staff members gave insight on the constant demands and struggles with special education during a Nov. 18 meeting. The school board members approved adopting two settlement agreements related to special education students.
Russell Diesinger, vice president of the board of school directors, voted no on the settlement agreements twice.
A call made to solicitor Jon S. Malsnee to find what the settlements were about was not returned by deadline.
Diesinger, vice president of the board of school directors, said that the public should know about the settlements.
"My concern is that it is an ongoing problem," Diesinger said. "I believe these folks that pay their taxes and are concerned about where tax money goes need to be made aware of the demands that are put on these district by these special education suits."
Beverly Martin, superintendent, said nothing prevents the board from disclosing how much the settlement costs. (The settlement money wasn't included on the agenda.)
The first settlement on the agenda cost the district $125,000 and the second cost about $100,000, school board president Jack Linton said.
Martin and Linton said both were paid during three-year periods.
Linton said, "To add onto what Russell is saying about how this affects the budget: you can't budget for what you don't know."
Diesinger stood up for the staff in the school district, saying that he has faith in them because he has watched them work during his time on the school board.
"I will tell you these people do the best they can in very difficult situations meeting the needs of children of great need," Diesinger said. "Unfortunately, the courts don't view it that way. The courts look for whatever reason there is and we end up in these settlements. Unfortunately, it costs the taxpayers in this community a lot of money."
Linton added, "These are federal laws passed down by the state and the state tells us what to do. We have very little control over these issues."
Special Education report
Barry N. Webb, supervisor of Special Education, gave a report to the board.
Webb told the board about changes to some requirements for special education aides. As of 2010, aides must have additional rigorous training to meet higher state standards.
Webb said in order to meet the standards aides can either attend an eight-day training program that's offered at Berks County Intermediate Unit or they have to hold an associate's degree.
The supervisor said that information about the Special Education department can be accessed on the Exeter Township School District Web site, www.exeter.k12.pa.us. The Web site shows what kind of services are offered through the department.
"One of the other big things we had to prepare for this year that we didn't have to do last year was progress monitoring," he said, adding that special education experts will come to the district in February to complete the report.
The department staff have to prepare thorough reports for the visit.
Another change in the department in the last couple of years is the growth of "low incidence population" students.
Webb said that the "low incidence" population of special education students have needs that are drastic to other students.
He defined the students in the population as life skills, IU programs, autistic and multi-disabled.
Webb said that the department staff has compiled booklets that are distributed to parents of special education children. These binders are designed to help the staff and parents monitor the students' progress together.
Martin distributed a letter to board members from the Department of Education that commended the district for compliance of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for the fiscal year 2006.
Webb said he is working with staff to meet state requirements and hopes to bring up rate of identifying students with special needs up to 85 or 90 percent.
In other business:
• Robert Quinter Jr.: One piece of legislation that is still pending or still in house that taxpayers over the age of 65 won't be liable for any increases in prop taxes from the date of enactment on out.
• Martin said Exeter has been successful for two years in a row with the Berks Photographic Society student competition. Last year some students did well in the competition and this year Vicky Corbett took first and third place.
Published: Monday, November 24, 2008 10:44 PM EST
HARMONY TWP. — An R.J. Rhodes Transit bus driver was charged Monday with reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and reckless driving, accused of slamming on his bus brakes and sending about 25 pupils flying into the seats in front of them.
Charges were being mailed to William J. McCartney, 68, of 1099 Ray Road, Harmony Township.
Harmony Township police said that on Nov. 18, one of the youngsters was apparently kneeling in his seat when McCartney told him to sit down “before I put you down.”
The boy’s mother, Ellen Jones of Ambridge, identified her son as a fourth-grader at Highland Elementary School in Ambridge. She would not name him, and his name was blacked out in a police report.
The boy moved to another seat, police said, and McCartney said, “If you do it again, I’ll knock you down.”
When the boy moved to another seat, police said, McCartney slammed on the brakes to his bus as it traveled down a hill on Route 989 in Harmony Township, sending youngsters flying.
Children hit the seats in front of them or went spilling onto the bus floor, police said.
Jones said when pupils told McCartney they were going to tell what he did, he stopped the bus and approached her son, with his fists clenched, and said: “Say something now, boy. I’ll punch you, boy.”
In the complaint filed against McCartney, Harmony Township Police Chief Jack Lively wrote that surveillance video shows McCartney stopping the bus and leaving his seat. Lively also wrote, “Threats from the driver, William McCartney, toward one student.”
Lively said Monday that McCartney’s voice can be heard on the surveillance video.
Police did not release the surveillance video. Lively said there were no reports of treatable injuries among the pupils, but added several parents said their children suffered brush burns from when their faces hit the seats.
Lively said Monday that he told Rhodes’ safety manager he didn’t want McCartney driving a bus, but Rhodes had already taken him off his route when reports of the incident began to surface.
Ambridge Area School Board President Bernard Logan said last week that district officials were reviewing the incident.
Jones said her son was suspended from the bus after the incident.
A woman at McCartney’s home said he was sleeping and couldn’t talk. He did not return a phone message left on his answering machine.
Bill Vidonic can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) ― The state is investigating how a 28-year-old woman died this month after shrinking to 43 pounds while living in a state-run home for developmentally disabled adults.
The Division of Developmental Disabilities caseworker responsible for keeping tabs on the woman has been suspended and state workers are checking on the well-being of all 1,255 residents of similar homes, officials said Tuesday.
The woman, Tara O'Leary, was removed on Sept. 11 from a central New Jersey home where she lived along with two other developmentally disabled adults, according to Tom Fitzsimmons, an aide to state Sen. Jennifer Beck.
The state did not release O'Leary's name, but said she died Nov. 10.
"This death is unacceptable on many levels, and we're doing all we can to scrutinize every aspect and prevent tragedies such as this from occurring again," said Jennifer Velez, the state Human Services commissioner.
The case is similar to one in 2003, when four children -- all weighing less than 45 pounds -- were removed from a state-run foster home in Collingswood. The boys all survived, but their plight brought deep disgrace to the state Division of Human Services and its Division of Children and Family Services.
Pam Ronan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said Tuesday the department began investigating O'Leary's care on Sept. 12 -- and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office began a criminal investigation the same day.
Ronan said the woman had a complicated medical history, but that the state could not release many specifics because of state and federal patient privacy laws and because of the investigation.
She said the state is looking into whether the caseworker was making monthly visits to the home.
The state has about 600 licensed community care residences, which operate much like foster homes and serve developmentally disabled adults.
Ronan said the state made public some information about the death and the investigation on Tuesday because officials were aware that three lawmakers, including state Sen. Jennifer Beck, a Republican from Red Bank, had scheduled a news conference with two of O'Leary's cousins and an aunt.
See Related Story: http://tcfpbis.blogspot.com/2008/11/nj-family-alleges-abuse-at-home-for.html
By Sean Hennessey
LITTLE SILVER, N.J. (CBS) ― A young woman spent her last weeks of life emaciated and with bed sores, and now her family and lawmakers are holding the State of New Jersey responsible for her death.
The developmentally disabled woman was being cared for in a group home overseen by the state.
But as CBS 2 HD found out, the case is now prompting a full review of similar group homes.
When Tara O'Leary was 26 she was developmentally disabled but healthy. But when she died three years later, she was hospitalized, just 48 pounds and in unspeakable pain.
"It was horrible," said Maureen Faletti, O'Leary's cousin. "It was something we'll never forget. It was heartbreaking, traumatizing."
On Tuesday her cousins and state lawmakers blamed New Jersey's Department of Developmental Disabilities for her death.
"Clearly there was abuse happening, horrific abuse happening," State Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-12th District, said.
The problems began when the woman's father died in 2005 and her stepmother took over as guardian. The problem was, she wasn't a legal guardian, yet was allowed to act like one, denying the family access to O'Leary, or letting them know the location of the group home where she was being cared for.
"We couldn't, obviously, go to the home, so there was no way of us to make sure Tara was fine except for the case worker's word," cousin Eileen Devlin said.
The family said O'Leary's case worker told them all the right things.
"'Oh, Tara's needs are being met fully. She couldn't be in a more loving environment. This family loves her and cares for her as she was her own,'" Faletti said.
But inside the home, O'Leary was withering away, and was finally rushed to the hospital where things went from bad to worse.
"She was pulling her hair out of her head," Faletti said. "She was pulling her fingers and her mouth, screaming in pain."
The 29-year-old died on Nov. 10.
"Tara could have lived to be an old woman," Faletti said.
Now lawmakers are sending letters to the attorney general, demanding an investigation.
With more than 1,200 developmentally disabled adults in New Jersey, lawmakers want to know who's caring for them, and if they are okay.
"It's so frightening to think what's going on in these homes with these people who don't have voices for themselves," Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, R-12th District, said.
O'Leary's case worker didn't want to talk and there was no answer at the group home, but now answers are being demanded so this never happens again.
The case worker has been suspended and the group home has been shut down.
CBS 2 HD contacted New Jersey's Department of Developmental Disabilities to find out how this could have happened but they haven't gotten back to us.
See Related Story: http://tcfpbis.blogspot.com/2008/11/nj-death-of-43-pound-disabled-woman.html
Thursday, November 27, 2008
By Laurel Walker
Michele and Kevin Klages think the Girl Scouts ought to practice what they preach.
The Girl Scouts' Web site says the organization has "a long history of adapting activities to girls who have disabilities, special needs and chronic illnesses."
Tell that to Magi, their 8-year-old daughter, who has autism. When her parents brought her to a Girl Scout Brownie troop for girls with special needs in Oconomowoc last week - thinking it would be a good fit - the leaders told them not to bring her back after the first visit.
They were stunned, disappointed, frustrated. Now they're looking for answers from local and national headquarters. They'd like an apology, for starters.
Magi is no stranger to Girl Scouts. She was a Daisy - a beginner - with others at Park Lawn Elementary School two years ago. She graduated into the Brownie troop under the same leader last year.
Dina Johnston, her troop leader both years, said the other girls would initially stare and show concern when Magi acted out.
"After a couple of meetings they knew, oh, that's just Magi," Johnston said. "They were very comfortable with her." And Magi, who communicates primarily with sign language, grew comfortable with them.
"I think it was good to have her," Johnston said.
But when the troop grew to 22 girls, her parents, one or both of whom stay beside Magi at every meeting, decided the group was too large and moving too fast for her. She was overwhelmed.
"She asked for Brownies, and she doesn't ask for much," Michele said. "That's the reason I tried to keep her in."
The couple were told about a special needs troop in Oconomowoc, where they live, with just four girls - all with physical disabilities and two of whom she knew. Magi couldn't wait.
"When we told her the day before we were going to a new Brownie troop, she asked to go to Brownies a hundred times," said her father. "She was so excited."
Children in the confounding world of autism are wired differently. Adjusting to new and different situations can be rough, but I know from past reporting that amazing things are possible. Four years ago, I wrote about Andy Telford, a 17-year-old boy with autism who, with the incredible dedication of both parents and Scout leaders, attained the Eagle rank - something done by just 4% of all Boy Scouts.
Magi's first time at the new Brownie troop was predictably difficult, her mother said.
In the new group, with her dad beside her and her mother behind, Magi didn't like sitting in "circle time" and sharing, Michele explained. When she bit herself, her parents spoke to her. When she threw a fit, her mother pulled her off by herself. When they worked on a mat-weaving project, she did fine. At one point she got up and ran, but her dad caught up.
"That was the extent of what she did," Michele said. "It was a new experience for her. With any child with autism, it takes a few times. Routine is important."
So when a troop co-leader called them Monday and told them not to bring Magi back because of her behavior and their concern for the safety of the other girls, the Klageses were upset.
"I never expected my child to be discriminated against," Michele said. "Never in a million years." Especially, she said, from a troop leader who had a child with special needs herself.
"The Girl Scouts are not above discrimination, " she's concluded.
My attempts to reach the Brownie troop leaders failed. Molly Fuller, the CEO for the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, said confidentiality requirements prevented her from talking about individuals, even though the Klageses were more than willing to talk about it.
"We want to serve all interested girls," said Fuller, repeating the Girl Scout mantra of inclusiveness.
Without some effort to resolve this sensibly, though, it has a hollow ring.
The Klageses spent the week trying to communicate with both local and national headquarters without satisfaction. Michele said they were told the Girl Scouts would try to find another troop for Magi, but they do not want to transport Magi distances beyond her own community for the activity and away from girls she knows. I can't say I blame them.
Michele wants the leaders removed, which sounds harsh for probably well-intentioned volunteers in a tough job, but who may have handled this situation badly. She wishes they had talked to the Klageses before making their decision and had given her daughter time to get acclimated, which sounds reasonable.
It would have been a good chance for the Klageses to educate the leaders and the other Brownies about autism, she said, while at the same time getting educated themselves about the special needs of the other troop members.
Maybe it's not too late to start again.
Call Laurel Walker at (262) 650-3183 or e-mail lwalker@journalsent inel.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Story by: Scott Adkins
HOPKINS CO. - NEWS 25 is getting answers after a teen is badly beaten in the middle of a Tri-State high school.
Hopkins County School administrators confirm they didn't call an ambulance, but the teen's injuries were so bad he had to be transferred from one hospital to another.
This is not your typical high school push-and-shove. Instead, school leaders and the county attorney are calling this a "violent assault," those words from James Lee Stevens, Hopkins County Schools Superintendent.
"What I don't understand is that, that school didn't call an ambulance. He needed an ambulance and they didn't call it. I was terrified when I saw him," Sabrina Hulsey said, the victim's mother.
Superintendent James Stevens said a 17-year-old student assaulted a 16-year-old before classes started at Hopkins County Central High School and was immediately checked by a school nurse.
The victim's mother revealed pictures of her son's injuries to NEWS 25 and, therefore, released the name of the student.
Dakota Hulsey, 16, incurred severe injuries and bruises to his face, including a broken nose and broken facial bone near his eye. His mother also said his jaw, gums and teeth were severely bruised and knocked out of socket.
When Hulsey's mother arrived to Hopkins County Central High, she "barely recognized him. I was just absolutely terrified. His teeth and his face and the blood, I just couldn't believe what I saw," Hulsey said.
Hulsey took the 16-year-old to Regional Medical Center. She says her son's injuries were so bad that he was transported by ambulance to St. Mary's Medical Center in Evansville.
NEWS 25 asked Stevens why school leaders didn't call for medical attention at the high school.
"We're still investigating. A nurse was at the facility. A nurse did look at him and administer first aid. We just have to review through the process," Stevens said. "It's very depressing that we have this. The Board of Education does not tolerate this and we want the safety of our students."
Stevens said there is not surveillance video or pictures of the actual assault. It's unclear what may have provoked the altercation.
The 17-year-old is charged with 4th degree assault, according to Hopkins County Attorney, Todd P'Pool. The teen is set for arraignment on December 1st.
The Hulsey family told NEWS 25 they haven't decided on legal action.
Published: November 24, 2008
A McDowell mother of a special needs child says school officials admitted that her son was restrained with a belt-like device and they've assured her it will not happen again.
Ann Watson alleged that her son, Jeremiah, 14, had been restrained at East McDowell Junior High without her permission.
She further said the system has purged documents that reflect poorly on the school system's handling of special needs students.
Last month she began noticing that Jeremiah was nervous, unable to sleep at night, and unusually upset. He began having incidents at school, including wetting his pants. Then earlier in this month, she got a call from the mother of a student at East. According to Watson, the caller said her daughter was upset about seeing Jeremiah tethered and being led on a leash at school.
Jeremiah is diagnosed as suffering from autism, she said. She homeschooled him for a number of years after an earlier conflict with administrators over speech therapy and other services for her son, she explained.
Marion Police Lieutenant Scott Spratt confirmed there was a complaint on file, although his ability to comment was limited, due to it being "a juvenile matter."
He said last week the incident "has been investigated and currently being followed up on."
Associate Superintendent Mike Murray said last Wednesday that the accusation was frustrating.
"We don't have devices," he insisted. "We don't use any torture apparatus or anything of the sort."
He said the system provides training for principals and other personnel in managing crisis situations, using the widely approved Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) techniques.
"They have to get that training," he said, "and they have to recertify periodically. When it's updated or new material is approved, we take every opportunity to get the latest training and keep our folks up to date."
There are other school systems, he added, that go so far as to include isolation in padded rooms as a method of defusing a volatile situation with a distraught student, but not in McDowell.
"I would never allow something like that to happen," Murray said. "I will not be a part of that. The point of our training is to avoid any need for restraint or confinement."
Murray was unequivocal in his denial of Watson's claims.
"Nothing was used to restrain that student," he said. He said an internal investigation and a Marion Police investigation had both found there was no evidence to support the charge.
"She (Watson) has acted like we did something terrible to that student and that is not the case," he concluded.
Bob Rettmann, spokesman for CPI in Brookfield, Wisconsin, said CPI training teaches "verbal de-escalation techniques, and physical techniques as a last resort."
He said the physical techniques were basically holding moves, designed to avoid injury or painful contact.
Those are the extent of CPI techniques, he added. The use of devices of any kind "would be entirely outside our purview."
On Wednesday, The McDowell News heard from a school employee who spoke on condition of anonymity. The employee said that an inexperienced assistant in the class had used a belt to tether Jeremiah on as many as three occasions.
The employee said the belt was mainly used to help wheelchair-bound students into and out of their seat. The use of the belt on Jeremiah was inappropriate, the employee said, and training would ensue to make sure it would not happen again.
On Friday, Watson told The McDowell News she had had a meeting at East that morning with the principal, Exceptional Children's Services Director Chuck Aldridge, a lawyer for the school system and other school personnel.
Watson said school officials had apologized to her at that meeting. She said they assured her the belt had been discarded and would not be used again. With that assurance, she said, she planned to return her son to school.
"If no other child gets hurt," she concluded, "then some good will come of it."
The school system's policy manual includes policy 5200, dealing with discipline. The policy grants that personnel "may use reasonable force to control behavior … or to remove a person … to quell a disturbance threatening injury to others … for the protection of persons or property; or to maintain order," among other situations.
The policy makes no mention of restraining devices.
Policy 6403, addressing programs for exceptional children, provides for alternative placement if a student "is of significant risk to others or who is of significant risk from others…" but makes no mention of any form of restraint.
Monday, November 24, 2008
STUART, Fla. - A student at a Florida school has been arrested after authorities say he was "passing gas" and turned off his classmates' computers.
According to a report released Friday by the Martin County Sheriff's Office, the 13-year-old boy "continually disrupted his classroom environment" by intentionally breaking wind. He then shut off some computers other students were using.
The Spectrum Junior-Senior High School [student] was arrested Nov. 4.
A school resource officer placed the boy under arrest after he confessed about his behavior, according to the report. He was charged with disruption of school function and released to his mother.
Boston Herald Columnist
Monday, November 24, 2008
The pain in her voice-mail message was palpable.
“My grandson has a name,” she said. “It’s Martin. He’s 5 years old. He likes baseball, loves to draw and is a whiz with the computer. He’s a happy little kid, except on the bus where he’s bullied because he is different. It’s been horrible. Would you please call me back?”
Her name is Catherine. Martin was the first of her three grandchildren and lives with her and his mother in Roxbury.
“When he was 2,” Catherine recalled, “we began to notice different things. Then one day we heard a nurse say, ‘It looks like he might have autism.’
“Because he was my first grandchild, we had that bond. Finding out he had autism only made that bond stronger. As I told my daughter, we’ll be advocating for him all of his life because there’ll be situations he won’t be able to handle.”
The situation now confronting Martin involves other passengers on the school bus he boards every morning en route to his kindergarten class.
“The teasing and tormenting started in September,” Catherine said. “Because he doesn’t speak, or makes sounds when speaking to imaginary friends, they imitate him and make fun of him.
“When I brought this to the attention of the principal in September, I was told the school had a policy of zero tolerance, yet nothing was done.
“Then one day he came home with scratches all over his shoulder. I took pictures, and sent them to the principal with a note. The answer we got was that Martin sometimes plays with bigger kids and ‘maybe he was wrestling with them.’ But when he got off the bus that afternoon I could see he was trying to adjust his coat and shirt as if something had just happened.”
Last week was the final straw. “Two girls, fourth- and fifth-graders, pulled off his hat, threw it to the back of the bus, and hit him on the head,” Catherine said. “The principal told my daughter that unless the driver files a report, she must assume it never happened.
“Then the assistant principal told her if she wasn’t happy with the bus service, she could always call a lawyer.
“I said, ‘No, we are going to call the Herald.’
“And that’s why I called you. Enough is enough.
“We aren’t looking for trouble, but I want them to know how serious we are. So let’s see if this helps. If it doesn’t, I’ll be calling you again and this time I’ll be naming names.”
By Erin Frustaci
April 25, 2008
Colorado - An investigation by a federally-funded watchdog group has found that two Poudre School District elementary schools improperly utilized, or did not properly document, instances of “restraint and seclusion” techniques applied to children with developmental disabilities.
The inquiry by the Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People found that PSD failed to follow proper procedures with in several instances involving three children who were isolated from other students or physically restrained . In some cases, the students’ parents weren’t notified that their children were being secluded or restrained, as required by law, and in others, investigators found a troubling lack of detail about the duration or reasons for the seclusion and restraint.
According to the state Department of Education, students can only be physically restrained—which is defined as any method or device used to limit movement, including by physical force—when there is “serious, probable and imminent threat of bodily harm by a student with the present ability to cause such harm.”
The Legal Center’s investigation, which was concluded early this month, is one of several looking into PSD schools’ use of restraint and seclusion. The Legal Center has launched a second investigation, and others are underway by the federal Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Regulatory Affairs.
The Legal Center’s recently concluded investigation found that Werner and Linton elementary schools failed to maintain proper records, failed to document the use of seclusion, failed to document the use of restraints and violated Colorado Department of Education rules by failing to conduct incident reviews.
It also expressed concern that instructors were using restraint and seclusion techniques not for safety reasons, but for disciplinary reasons.
“Specifically, Poudre School District’s policies regarding physical intervention state that one reason to use such intervention is to ‘maintain student discipline.’ This wording lends itself to an interpretation that physical intervention can be used for discipline,” according to the report.
The district denied any wrongdoing but said it will work to improve the issues the investigation has highlighted.
Parent advocate Libby Stoddard said there are times when physically intervening with a disruptive or violent child is appropriate as long as it’s done safely. But those times must be properly documented both to protect the district from liability as well as to inform parents about exactly what was done and why.
In this, the two schools largely failed, according to the investigation. In fact, the dearth of information about times when restraint and seclusion methods were used caused some problems for investigators.
“The lack of documentation regarding how individual student behaviors were handled hindered this investigation and led parents to believe that the schools and (the) District were not being completely forthright in divulging information about how their children were being taught, intervened with and disciplined,” the report stated.
The report also summarized how some of the parents contacted were concerned over how the schools were using the restraint and seclusion techniques.
“In general,” it read, “the parents expressed concerns that their children were being placed in time-out rooms for excessive periods of time and/or numerous times throughout the day. Additionally, some parents were concerned that their children were placed in time-out rooms, with egress blocked and without supervision.
Parents also expressed disbelief that adequate less restrictive alternatives were attempted prior to using seclusion or restraint. There was similarly a concern that the parents were not being notified each time that seclusion or restraint was being used with their children. Finally, the parents were concerned that the time-out sessions were often used as punishment or behavior modifiers, rather than for educational purposes or when the child was a danger to himself or others.”
The Legal Center started looking at PSD after being contacted by Daniel and Susan Swearingen, the parents of a 12-year-old Johnson Elementary School student who shows symptoms of autism. He wound up in juvenile court after a series of behavioral issues, including an incident where he allegedly hit a teacher. It was then that they began uncovering incidences of restraint and seclusion that they say they had not received notification of.
“As we began getting documentation on our son, we realized a lot happened to him that we were never made aware of,” Susan Swearingen said.
Originally, their concern was to protect their son and fight for his rights, but they soon discovered other families with similar experiences.
“Parents are limited to what they can do. What resources you can get when up against something like that, where do you go?” she said.
The family turned to anyone who would listen to their story and eventually contacted The Legal Center. Susan Swearingen said she and her husband didn’t want other families to end up in their situation or worse.
Thom Miller, Special Education Program Coordinator for The Legal Center, said that while the Swearingen’s experience was not enough to prompt an investigation on its own, the Swearingens referred investigators to other families who’d experienced similar problems. Miller said he received about four or five complaints of restraint and seclusion from various PSD schools.
Miller said the inquiry was hampered from the outset by PSD’s lack of documentation.
“In terms of weighing all this stuff, we are in a difficult situation,” Miller said. “We are supposed to be a neutral fact finder, but in addition to that, we are charged with making sure those with disabilities are free from abuse and neglect. We need to look at the records to determine whether the district is following applicable state laws.”
The investigation highlighted the experiences of three children where teachers and administrators violated restraint and seclusion procedures on numerous occasions:
• A 7-year-old boy with severe developmental disabilities and who suffered from “tantrums” seemed to do well in a different elementary school when given close one-on-one attention. When he was transferred to a special education program at Werner, however, there was not enough staff to continue with such close instruction. At Werner, his tantrums were well documented, and according to his personal “behavioral support plan,” they were to have been handled by staff holding him to prevent injury to other students, or having an instructor take him to a nearby breezeway and stay with him while he calmed down. However, investigators found no documentation of how his tantrums were handled, a violation of documentation requirements.
• An 8-year-old Linton Elementary School student with a history of abuse was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, an anxiety disorder, a mood disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, sensory integration disorder and cerebral palsy. On several occasions, the child was placed in time-out, but the reasons for the time-outs and their lengths were not always documented. “The file and documentation consistently fails to indicate how long (the student) spent in time-out, whether his egress was blocked and how he transitioned back into the classroom,” the report concluded. Such details are important in determining the whether the student’s “time-outs” rose to the level of “seclusion.”
• A 14-year-old Linton student with autism disorder, a mood disorder and features of anxiety has a long history of “explosive and impulsive behavior” that often interferes with his academic and social growth. The Legal Center report noted several instances in which he was restrained after becoming violent or threatening with other students and staff, but found no documentation of how long the restraint lasted or how the situations were resolved. The investigation also determined that although one of the teachers who had been involved in restraining the student had received training in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention, she had not received Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) training, the method of intervention PSD uses, until months after the incidents noted by The Legal Center.
The Colorado Department of Education requires documentation when restraints are used for five minutes or longer. Proper documentation includes submitting a written report within one school day to school administration, notifying the parents the same day restraint is used and a providing a written report to the parent and in the student’s file.
The Legal Center maintains that evidence shows that Werner and Linton did not follow these rules and failed to properly document the use of restraint. It also found both schools in violation of the CDE’s retraint/seclusion rules because of failure to conduct proper incident reviews after restraint or seclusion occurred.
Because of the lack of documentation, investigators could do little except recommend the district do better.
“It becomes ‘he said she said,’ or a guessing game,” Miller said. “Because we didn’t find serious incidences of restraint and seclusion—we found instances, but a lot of it was difficult to determine because of the lack of documentation—we didn’t feel we could justify a more harsh penalty.”
The Legal Center recommended the staff at the two schools come into compliance by documenting all uses of restraint and seclusion, conduct appropriate de-briefing and reviews with staff, maintain appropriate documentation on site in student’s files, adhere to proper use of restraint and seclusion and provide proper notice to parents whose children have been restrained or secluded. The Legal Center has asked the district’s lawyers to submit written assurance that these recommendations have been met by the end of this school year. In addition, The Legal Center will make two unannounced visits for inspection at each of the two schools before the end of the 2008-2009 academic year.
Laura Richardson, the district’s director of Integrated Services, which oversees special education programs, said she disagrees with the investigation’s conclusion, but will work to implement its recommendations.
“I’ve reviewed (the report) and PSD does not agree with many of the Legal Center’s report findings and conclusions,” Richardson said. “However most of the recommendations are reasonable and we are working to implement them. We have reviewed and are updating our governing policies and practices to make sure they are in compliance with the law.”
Richardson has only been with PSD since January; she came out of retirement after 18 years with the Windsor School District to replace Chris Schott, who retired after serving as the director for special education for three years. Though the complaints investigated by The Legal Center occurred before Richardson had joined the district, she is now charged with responding to The Legal Center’s report. She said she hopes to assess the strengths of the district’s special-ed program and build upon them while identifying areas for improvement. She said one thing that should help with this is the re-establishment of the special education advisory committee.
“We want to make sure there is good communication and trainings across the district and want to keep people up to date with what our policies are,” she said.
For Stoddard, the parent advocate, the lack of training in such situations is a problem that goes beyond the issue of restraining and secluding students.
“From my view point, I think the district and the Special Education Department have in some ways neglected the charge of the federal law in making sure everyone working with special education have proper training,” she said. “Personally, I think any child being restrained and not having proper documentation is one too many.”
The Legal Center started doing work relating to restraint and seclusion at the end of 2006. Since that time, the organization has conducted 10 investigations in school districts across Colorado. About a third of requests or complaints The Legal Center receives result in investigations. Two of the larger investigations took place in Aurora Public School District and Colorado Springs School District 11.
A June 2007 report found incidences of improper restraint and seclusion at Kenton and Lansing Elementary schools in Aurora where mechanical devises where used. A public report released by The Legal Center described a 5-year-old girl with multiple disabilities being repeatedly strapped into a restraint chair for half an hour or longer at Lansing and a 10-year-old girl with multiple disabilities being forcibly placed in a tent.
“The improper use of restraint and seclusion is a statewide problem,” the public report states. “The ongoing school investigations, training programs for school staff, and individual advocacy for children and their families are part of a wide-ranging initiative by The Legal Center to draw public attention to the problem of inappropriate restraint and seclusion and bring about system-wide change.”
That system-wide change is something that the Swearingen family has become quite passionate about, because it hits so close to their hearts. They said they know how hard it is to fight for the rights of children, especially when dealing with children with disabilities, who may not be able to clearly communicate what happens to them. It’s something Susan Swearingen described as a crash course.
Stoddard said the Swearingens wanted to make a difference for their son and for parents who may not have the education, knowledge or persistence to fight the battle.
“They want to see some systematic change that will make a difference for all kids with disabilities,” Stoddard said. “I really hope this becomes an opportunity for the District to reexamine some of its policies and practices and turn things around in the District. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call and the end of these problems.
“I’d like to dream.”
Saturday, November 22, 2008
An Orlando Sentinel review of records from the Florida Department of Education found at least 150 teachers who were disciplined in the past three years for sexual misconduct.
After the DOE investigates an allegation, the case goes before the state Education Practices Commission, a quasi-judicial group of educators, law-enforcement officials and community members. The commission decides whether a teacher should be penalized based on the investigation's findings and information from the teacher being accused. The process can take years to complete.
These are the findings from cases in Central Florida since January 2006. For more information on these and other cases, go to www.myfloridateacher.com/discipline/summary.aspx.
2008, Aaron Kurdle, Boone High, letter of reprimand and two years' probation plus a $1,000 fine and a requirement to take a college course on child development; accused of making sexual comments and commenting on female students' weight and breast size.
2008, Cynthia Jean Bradford, school unknown, Permanent Revocation and barred from applying for another certificate; accused of misconduct that included reading graphically-sexual material to students that was not part of her lesson plan.
2008, Bradley J. Winneshiek, University High, Surrender/Permanent Revocation of certificate; accused of calling and e-mailing two female students to discuss his marital problems; asking a female student to dinner after she moved to another school; and having photos on his school computer of female students wearing bras or bathing suits and kissing each other.
2007, Laura Hilton, Boone High, Permanent Revocation; accused of having sex with a 17-year-old student.
2007, Carrie Lynn Kirkland, Apopka High, Permanent Revocation; accused of having a romantic relationship with a student, during which time she kissed him and showed him her breasts.
2007, Vincent Gary Rains, Lakeview Middle, Permanent Revocation; found guilty by the court of lewd battery on a 12-year-old male student.
2006, Timothy E. Bridges, Apopka High, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; accused of having an "inappropriate physical relationship" with a female student over several years and "sexual behavior or harassment" involving a female teacher and another female student.
2006, Dang Van Dinh, Boone High, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; pleaded guilty to lewd battery on a child after acknowledging he had a sexual relationship with a student for almost a year.
2006, Todd W. Johnson, Pinar Elementary and Conway Middle, Permanent Revocation; accused of having a relationship with a former 13-year-old student that involved meeting after school sporting events, and e-mailing and calling the girl to say he loved her and wanted their friendship to grow into something more.
2006, James Joiner, Dillard Street Elementary, Permanent Revocation; accused of rubbing, tickling and hugging several female students.
2006, Thomas Solister Lee, Hungerford Preparatory High, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; accused of asking an 18-year-old student about having a romantic relationship with him after she graduated.
2006, Ricardo Parr, Conway Middle, Permanent Revocation and barred from applying for another certificate; accused of sending e-mails to a female student saying he "wanted her" and asking is she was a virgin.
2007, Daniel Travis Cliatt, Endeavor Elementary, Surrender/Permanent Revocation of certificate; convicted of molesting a former student.
2006, Jennifer A. Collins North Area Abeyance Center School, Permanent Revocation of certificate; found guilty in a criminal court of lewd battery against a 14-year-old male student.
2006, Benjamin Leon Gary, Madison Middle, Five-year Revocation of certificate; accused of touching at least two girls under their shirts and on their thighs, telling a student she was pretty and had sexy lips and searching students' pockets with his hands, making them feel uncomfortable.
2008, Brandon Hughes, Leesburg High, letter of reprimand and $500 fine; accused of touching the genitals of an 18-year-old former student on school property while treating her for a boil on her upper, inner thigh.
No teachers were disciplined for sexual misconduct in Osceola during this time period.
2008, Jason Scott Hornsby, Letter of Reprimand, two years' probation and required to pay a $500 fine and complete a college course on ethics; accused of sending a female student vulgar and threatening e-mails.
2008, Richard Bruce Lundahl, Lakeland High, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; accused of having sex with a female student when she visited his home for music tutoring.
2007, Jason Wade Carter, Winter Haven High, Permanent Revocation; accused of having a romantic relationship with a 17-year-old student that included meeting her alone in his vehicle, holding her hand and kissing her on the mouth.
2007, Theodore A. Murray, Fort Meade Middle-Senior High, Permanent Revocation; pleaded no contest to a criminal charge of voyeurism after he was accused of secretly filming or photographing a male student showering, dressing or using the bathroom.
2008, Milo Franklin Congden, Lake Brantley High, Permanent Revocation and barred from applying for another certificate; accused of referring to a female student as "G-string" and saying she had a "nice butt" and commenting to a female student about a female teacher's breasts.
2006, Gilbert C. Hall, Jackson Heights Middle, letter of reprimand and two years' probation; accused of discussing with students his girlfriend's "big rack," referring to a female student as "hot," and seating girls at the front of the class so he could stare at their breasts and buttocks.
2006, Brian S. Wilson, Oviedo High, Permanent Revocation; accused of having a romantic relationship with a 17-year-oldstudent.
2008, Maria Claudia Velasco-Rangel, Pine Ridge High, letter of reprimand and $500 fine; accused of engaging students in inappropriate discussions about sex and embarrassing students by asking them in front of the class if they were virgins.
2008, Delana McFarland, Spruce Creek High, letter of reprimand and two years' probation and required to pay a $250 fine and complete a college ethics course; accused of sending a male student text messages, calling him "cutie," "baby" and "sexie."
2008, James W. Rakes, DeLand High, letter of reprimand and $250 fine; accused of projecting a pornographic image onto a classroom screen that was viewed by a 19-year-old male student.
2007, Paul W. Blanchfield, school location unknown, letter of reprimand and $350 fine; accused of hugging and kissing a 13-year-old girl in his classroom and a storage area.
2007, Paula Jean Cantrell, New Smyrna Beach Middle, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; accused of having a sexual relationship with a male student for a year and a half.
2007, Darren Paul Lutz, Sunrise Elementary, letter of reprimand and two years' probation and required to pay a $250 fine and complete a college course on child development; accused of touching a female students' breasts while asking, "Who do you love?"
2007, Carlos A. Mendez, Deltona High, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; accused of kissing a 15-year-old girl on the cheek and describing his first sexual experience to a student.
2007, David Robert Nist, New Smyrna Beach High, letter of reprimand and $500 fine; accused of sending sex-related texts to a female student and talking online to a female student about sex and drinking.
2007, Bruce S. Snow, DeLand High, Surrender/ Permanent Revocation; accused of harassing a female student by sending her personal cards, calling her at home, repeatedly visiting her place of employment and leaving a rose on her car.
2006, Christopher Thomas Kellett, Spruce Creek High, letter of reprimand and $250 fine; accused of touching a student near her breast and on her stomach and leg and also hugging her several times while they were alone in an equipment room.
2006, James E. Sinsel, Father Lopez Catholic High, Permanent Revocation and barred from applying for another certificate; accused of sending a 15-year-old female student an instant message that ended with "Love ya, bye" and mailing a personal letter to a female student that contained a drawing of a diamond ring that he indicated was for "his girl" if she wanted it.
Review: Palm Beach County teachers disciplined in past three years
November 16, 2008
PALM BEACH COUNTY
2008, Carol L. Flannigan, Rolling Green Elementary, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; pleaded guilty to lewd molestation. She admitted having sex with a fifth-grader in 2003.
2008, Blake Farrell Sinrod, Coral Sunset Elementary, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; pleaded guilty to the charge of child abuse. He had been accused of molesting two students.
2007, Joel H. Drucker, Forest Hill High, letter of reprimand and two years' probation and $250 fine; accused of pulling on the label of a female student's underwear and attempting to read it. He also allegedly told two girls who were discussing the size of their breasts that "a handful is enough."
2006, Howard David Katz, Beacon Cove Intermediate School, Permanent Revocation; accused of putting his hand on the buttock of a 9-year-old female student and leaving it there for several seconds. He also allegedly patted a third-grade student on her bottom and on her belly below the navel.
2006, James Michael Mostowy, Lake Worth Middle, suspension and three years' probation and $2,000 fine; accused of an inappropriate personal relationship with a former student that included writing letters to each other, inviting her to his home to swim in his pool and giving her gifts.
2006, Antoinette Pietro, Kennedy Middle, letter of reprimand and two years' probation and $100 fine; accused of making sex-related comments to a seventh-grade girl, calling her a "hot hoochie heifer" and asking male students if they wanted to have sex with her.
2006, James H. Wheeler, Palm Beach Lakes High, Permanent Revocation; accused of having an "intimate physical relationship" with a female student.
Review: Broward County teachers disciplined in past three years
November 16, 2008
2008, Victor Melece Chaler, Watkins Elementary, letter of reprimand and three years' probation and required to pay a $500 fine and prohibited from working with non-communicative students; accused of inappropriately touching a male student while the boy sat on his lap several times.
2008, Gerard K. Czwartacky, Cypress Bay High, Permanent Revocation and barred from applying for a new certificate; accused of grabbing a female student's buttocks and playing with girls' hair and rubbing their backs. During a conversation about a class party, he allegedly took a female student aside and, while leaning "exceedingly close," told her they would "have our own party."
2008, Leroy James Gibbs, Dillard High, Permanent Revocation and barred from applying for a new certificate; accused of having a sexual relationship with a female student.
2008, Seth Kaplan, Miramar Elementary, Permanent Revocation and barred from applying for a new certificate; accused of sending e-mails to a female student, discussing "inappropriate" subjects such as her virginity.
2008, Roger D. Morgan, Rickards Middle, Permanent Revocation and barred from applying for a new certificate; accused of exchanging sexually-explicit material via e-mail with a female student and hugging and kissing her in his classroom.
2008, David Alan Morgenstern, Deerfield Beach Middle, Permanent Revocation and barred from applying for a new certificate; accused of showering with a mentally-challenged female student and massaging her breasts and private area.
2008, Lynn H. Rochelle, unidentified school location, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; accused of having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old female student more than 30 years ago while teaching in Texas.
2008, Edward Allen Steinlauf, Fort Lauderdale High, letter of reprimand and one year of probation and required to pay a $250 fine and complete a college course on child development; accused of telling students about him having sex with his wife and claiming he had sex with the school's principal.
2008, Tamorris Wooten, Parkway Academy Charter High, Permanent Revocation and barred from applying for a new certificate; accused of having sex with a female student.
2007, Alex Anninos, Cypress Bay High, Permanent Revocation; accused of having sex with a 17-year-old student he tutored in math.
2007, Raymond Caldes, Flanagan High, letter of reprimand and $500 fine; accused of staring at girls' breasts and telling students, when he was asked if he was Jewish, that he would look down his pants and check.
2007, Winston M. DeWeever, Hollywood Hills High, one year of suspension and two years' probation and a $250 fine; accused of hugging and kissing a female student close to the mouth and offering to give another girl a passing grade for a "favor" that was understood to be a sex..
2007, Gregory Ivan Harris, Deerfield Beach High, letter of reprimand and two years' probation and a $500 fine; accused of asking a female student about the color of her underwear and if he could see it.
2007, Stephen J. Levenson, Rickards Middle, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; pleaded no contest to a battery charge after he was accused of inappropriately touching four students. 2007, David Hugh Menke, Coral Springs High, Permanent Revocation; accused of sending sexually-explicit messages online to female students from his physics class.
2007, Bert Peck, Coral Springs Middle, five years' suspension and $1,000 fine and prohibited from driving students in a motor vehicle; accused of misconduct that included calling a student "the horniest girl in eighth grade" in front of other students.
2006, Anthony Lalli, Hollywood Hills Elementary, Surrender/Permanent Revocation; accused of rubbing several female students on the leg, thigh or hip and touching the bras or bra straps of several fifth-grade girls.
2006, Dana J. Sorensen, McArthur High, letter of reprimand and two years' probation; accused of keeping photos of nude or scantily-clad females, including students, in his classroom or on his school computer. He also allegedly made sexual comments to a female student online.
SOURCE: FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
Friday, November 21, 2008
A 10-year-old boy at an elementary school in Texas was handed out some pretty harsh discipline. The little boy's mom opted for a paddling but the extensive bruising that followed caused alarm. The mother immediately contacted local police.
After engaging in a fight at school, 10-year-old Andy Garcia most likely made the walk of shame like all other children do after getting caught: the road to the Principal's Office. But for this fourth grader, the consequences for his actions are now being investigated as possible child abuse after Assistant Principal Joe Rios dished out the "board of justice."
In a local news report that explains details of the incident, Andy's mom received a phone call from Rios earlier in the week stating that her son had gotten in a fight and that disciplinary action would need to be taken. That discipline was left in mom's hands and she agreed to "a lick" with a paddle, a legal discipline strategy employed by the Refugio Independent School District in Refugio, Texas.
Her reasoning for the choice was that her son suffers from ADD/ADHD and because the alternative disciplinary action of three days suspension from school would impact his learning and educational capabilities. ADD/ADHD is considered a disability by the Texas Education Code and those who are diagnosed and in the special education system are entitled to disciplinary modifications based upon that disability.
It is not clear whether Andy was a special education student in the school district, only that his mother stated he was ADD/ADHD and disabled. To be a special education student, one must be diagnosed medically with a qualifiable disability. After a diagnosis is made, students who are in special education are entitled to a "Free and Appropriate Education" within the "Least Restrictive Environment" which means that modifications are made to their individual education plans that allow them to function on par with a non-special education student. This includes discipline modifications.
Later that evening, Andy began to show signs of severe bruising, prompting his mom to call the police. Andy described his punishment by Assistant Principal Rios as if Rios were swinging a baseball bat over his shoulder and stated to his mother that he was struck three times. Andy's mom was under the belief that "a lick" meant only ONE.
School District Superintendent, Bobby Azam, went on camera and stated that the district's policy did not specify a certain number of appropriate licks and the district policy itself stated:
"Corporal punishment had been approved"
Several questions regarding the policy became evident in that the written policy clearly stated that this type of punitive action was to be used as a last resort when other forms of punishment had failed. Also, parents in Refugio ISD have the option to "opt out" of the Corporal Punishment policy by submitting their refusal in writing.
So it seems there is a 10-year-old with a possible diagnosis of ADD/ADHD whose mom agreed to "a lick" as a first line of punishment, not a last resort and who is now suffering from extensive bruising from said paddling after receiving not one, but allegedly three over-the-shoulder baseball swing whoopings? Moreover, because policy didn't "clearly" state a certain number, then an Assistant Principal might just be able to say that he didn't agree to a set number, although the mom was under the impression that "a lick" meant one?
If Joe Rios is found guilty of any wrongdoing, the district's range of disciplinary action for him will be anything from a Letter of Reprimand that will be discarded when he leaves the district to termination of this job. However, Child Protective Services, the Refugio Police Department and the district are all three investigating.
Pending medical reports on the extent of the injuries, Rios could be charged with injury to a child. And for little Andy, the fourth grader who in the news tape was obviously a small child, I wonder if this severe a beating will likely alter the impulsive behaviours so concurrent with a disability like ADD/ADHD?
Just over twenty states in the United States allow Corporal Punishment, while just under thirty states have made the practice illegal. However, the choice here was clearly given to the parent. Its the hostile method and extensive bruising that would send a parent who left the same marks on their child to prison that is in the hot seat.
There is one disciplinary measure for Mr. Rios that might be seen as appropriate if he is found guilty of causing such horrific bruising. Some 6 ft 7 in bruiser named Bo swinging a wooden device might assist the Assistant Principal in the future regarding disciplinary actions.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
PORT ST. LUCIE — Morningside Elementary School teacher Wendy Portillo’s attorney said his client’s side will be heard when she appeals the St. Lucie County School Board’s one-year unpaid suspension from work.
Other than that attorney David Walker of Stuart declined to comment about Portillo’s punishment as a result of the Alex Barton case.
According to police reports, Portillo brought Alex Barton, then 5 years old, to the front of his kindergarten classroom and asked other students to tell him how his behavior affected them. Alex, who was being diagnosed with a type of autism at the time, had left the class twice that day for discipline referrals. Portillo then asked the class to vote on whether Alex should stay in the class. Alex lost the vote.
St. Lucie County School Board unanimously approved Superintendent Michael Lannon’s recommendation Tuesday to suspend Portillo for one year without pay and return her to an annual contract. Lannon also plans to ask the state Board of Education to revoke her teaching certificate for one year.
Portillo is appealing, which means a hearing must be scheduled within 60 days.
Alex’s mother, Melissa Barton, said Portillo should be fired because of the incident.
Meanwhile, Jack Scott, director of the Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, called the board’s action “a slap on the wrist.”
The action didn’t match the severity of the action done to Alex Barton in his kindergarten classroom in May, Scott said.
“I think a much more definitive action was appropriate,” he said.
Scott said the school district has an obligation to model what to do when a wrong is committed. The district should apologize to Alex and his family, he said.
“Right now there doesn’t seem to be a mechanism for the school to apologize,” he said.
Scott said the board’s action shows the system dealing with students’ rights is not strong. There might be an undue concern for teachers’ employment rights, he said.
He said the St. Lucie County School District works hard with the center regarding services for children with autism, and there are some positive things happening in the district.
“The whole incident (involving the Morningside teacher) is just really unfortunate,” Scott said.
The jury trial in a lawsuit claiming a Washington Community School District special education teacher physically abused a student began Tuesday in Washington District Court.
According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs Thomas and Kaylene Crawford are seeking damages for an incident that allegedly occurred on March 11, 2005 in Stewart Elementary School. The eight-count lawsuit filed on April 20, 2007 alleges that special education teacher Susan Kinsinger, an employee of the school district, forcefully restrained their son and "slammed his head on a desk while yelling at him." The suit further alleges that when the minor tried to pull his head up, Kinsinger would slam it down again.
The suit claims negligence and liability of the school district and abuse of the legal process. The district is accused of failing to protect their son.
The suit alleges the school district launched a Level One investigation after the incident and "failed to comply with provisions of Iowa Administrative Code."
By Marisa Schultz / The Detroit News
What The Detroit News found
• Thousands of state teachers never had criminal background checks until recently.
• Communication lapses between prosecutors, courts and the state mean some teachers convicted of sexual misconduct remain certified.
• State officials sometimes learn about convicted educators through the media.
• The criminal background database the state is now relying on covers only Michigan and has gaps.
Students at Warren's McKinley Elementary School didn't think much of the black gym bag their teacher carried -- until federal agents discovered its mesh pocket concealed a video camera.
The kids who had trusted Aaron Brevik, 33, soon learned he secretly filmed boys in locker rooms, showers and the bathroom. One horrified parent identified her son by his boxers. Brevik molested the child while he slept and recorded it.
Brevik, sentenced in March to 5-20 years in prison, is among at least 35 Michigan school employees or those recently employed by schools charged or convicted of sexual misconduct in the last 15 months. The incidents -- largely involving teachers -- have victimized nearly 50 minors and shaken communities such as Warren, Southgate and Pontiac, which have had more than one case each.
"You hope that things like this never happen again to your kids or to anybody else's," said a Warren mother, whose daughter was molested by a different teacher. "It makes you wonder who's out here watching what is going on."
The News is not naming several parents in this article to protect their children's identities.
While the Michigan Department of Education maintains it aggressively goes after abusive teachers, a Detroit News investigation finds that inadequate tracking of teachers, incomplete criminal background checks and poor communication among schools, courts and law enforcement agencies have allowed potentially abusive teachers to slip through the cracks.
Among The News' findings:
• Thirty-nine percent of 641 teachers whose licenses have been reviewed for revocation since 1986 were accused of sexual misconduct -- more than any other crime. Incidents included child molestation, possessing child pornography and sex with students.
• The Department of Education never revoked the certification of some of these teachers, as required by law. It says it never heard of these convictions from local prosecutors.
• Until procedures were changed in December, employees hired before the 1993-94 school year had never been checked for a criminal history. The police database the Department of Education relies on is only as good as the information law enforcement agencies and courts provide. Five school employees recently convicted still show clean histories in the database.
• The state only learns of teachers fired for sexual misconduct if a teacher appeals the firing. Since 1982, the state has allowed nearly a dozen teachers to keep their certification even though the state tenure commission upheld their firings for sexual misconduct. At least one is still teaching.
• State law requires FBI and state criminal background checks on new teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, nurses, social workers, school psychologists and bus drivers. However, special education paraprofessionals, janitors, cafeteria workers, coaches and others in contact with children are not covered.
• Prosecutors and courts are required to report all felony and certain misdemeanor convictions to state education officials so they can rule on decertification. But when charges are reduced in plea bargains, no duty is placed on prosecutors and courts to report convictions not covered by the law.
Such a deal allowed Ann Arbor's Worlee Dennis Jr., 45, to keep his right to teach even after he was convicted in two cases involving sexual misconduct.
In the first case, Dennis, who was teaching at Mitchell Elementary School at the time, was charged with one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a fourth-grade student. Under a deal, he pleaded guilty to assault in 2002.
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie said his office didn't alert the state of Dennis' conviction to protect the teacher's right to confidentiality.
In 2004, Dennis, working as a car salesman by then, was arrested again in Wayne County for trying to solicit sex with a person he thought was a 13-year-old girl online. He was convicted of one count of using a computer to commit a crime and sentenced to 2 1/2 to 20 years in prison in October.
The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on whether it notified the state of his second conviction.
Dennis still holds his certification.
"You think school is a safe place for kids; especially at that particular age they look up to the teachers as a good person," said the father of the Mitchell Elementary victim. "And then to have something like this happen."
Tracking system failures
A state auditor general report released in 2004 concluded the Department of Education needs to do a better job of tracking criminal convictions, documenting current teachers and updating the records of teachers who have been decertified.
The audit found that 222 licensed school workers, mostly teachers, had criminal records; and that the state did not know about 178 of them. Five employees had convictions for robbery, assault and criminal sexual conduct; others had been arrested for shoplifting or alcohol-related offenses.
"I think the auditor general report made us aware that the system that we had been relying on had not been working," said interim state superintendent of education Jeremy Hughes. "Frankly, we had been convinced up to that point that the system had been working, and the audit general report showed ... that still some people were slipping through."
The department says it will address the certification of teachers such as Dennis.
Asked about teachers keeping their certification despite their firing being upheld by the tenure commission, Hughes said that under current law the state can't revoke a tenured teacher's certification unless the teacher has been convicted. He said he would support examining a change in the law. "I am concerned," he said.
As part of its response to the audit, the department announced in December it will now check the criminal histories of all teachers twice a year through the Michigan State Police. The background checks will only cover Michigan, however.
Among other findings in The News' investigation, the Department of Education didn't compile a master list of 950 teachers convicted largely of felonies until last year when the Legislature ordered it to do so. A third of those records were missing details such as where a teacher taught and the dates of crimes. The department employee charged with keeping the files since 1998 says she keeps copious records but can't speak for her predecessor.
Until 1996, school districts weren't required to request or share personnel records with other districts. So a school employee fired for sexual misconduct from one district could conceivably go work in another without his or her history being disclosed, a practice called "passing the trash."
Abuse reports increase
Nationwide, reports of educator abuse are increasing, but it's unclear whether the abuse is more prevalent or whether kids are more willing to come forward. A crackdown on Internet predators, more conversations between parents and kids about abuse and the exposure of sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church may be prompting more victims to report the abuse, experts say. A report released last summer by the U.S. Department of Education estimates that one in 10 children will encounter sexual misconduct from a school employee.
"People who are going to sexually abuse kids are going to go where the kids are," said Charol Shakeshaft, author of the report and a professor in the Department of Foundations, Leadership and Policy Studies at Hofstra University in New York.
The report, mandated by Congress, was criticized by the Department of Education as well as teachers' unions for lumping physical and verbal abuse together. Nevertheless, the Department of Education concluded both are of "grave concern."
The report found that males are more often the culprits than females. Nonetheless, a few high-profile cases in Michigan and the nation have highlighted women as abusers. Five of the 35 Michigan educators arrested or convicted of sex crimes are women.
Margaret Trimer-Hartley, director of communications for the Michigan Education Association, a union that represents teachers, says sexual misconduct involves only a fraction of Michigan's more than 100,000 teachers.
The union takes sex crime convictions very seriously and believes schools need to train employees to recognize warning signs of abuse, she said.
"With the magnitude and the number of false accusations that are made out there, we have to protect those that are falsely accused," Trimer-Hartley said. "And a lot of the times people don't understand that we are not out there defending sex offenders. We defend their right to go through the legal process and make sure they are innocent until proof positive."
She points to a case near Lansing, where a Leslie High School special education teacher was charged last year with sexual abuse. Prosecutors dropped the charges after police determined the student who accused him was lying. She was convicted of filing a false police report. The teacher later died of a heart attack.
Disabled students at risk
Some cases of abuse are so egregious they shock even seasoned police officers. Such was the case of Terry Neff, a former special education paraprofessional sentenced this month to 30-60 years in prison for raping one of his students. Neff, who had met the student when he worked in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, had a felony drug conviction in Indiana for which he served prison time, according to police.
Since paraprofessionals are not required to undergo background checks, his conviction never surfaced.
"I've been in law enforcement for 10 years now, and this single case bothered me more than any other case because of the trust issue and the fact that she had an 18-month-old's capacity," said Detective Abe DeVol of the Kalkaska County Sheriff's Department. "To look at her and see her abilities -- it really makes you sick."
The girl's father, Yves Champt, who is allowing The News to use his name, said he had trusted no one to care for his daughter until he met Neff at her school. He and his wife left their 19-year-old daughter in his care so they could enjoy a summer afternoon together. Before they left, Champt got a call that will forever haunt him.
"Your daughter has been raped," a Department of Natural Resources officer told him.
Neff, 53, had assaulted his daughter in the woods before DNR officers found them.
"The mission was to sexually molest children, not just any children ... but the ones that are helpless, the ones that cannot speak or defend themselves," said Champt, 49.
Now Champt is lobbying for the state to require nationwide criminal background checks for paraprofessionals.
Shakeshaft's report notes that disabled students are more likely to be sexually abused than students without disabilities.
To curb educator sexual abuse, Shakeshaft says leaders need to track the problem.
"We know the number of reindeer in Alaska," Shakeshaft said. "Why don't we know the number of children who are sexually exploited by trusted adults? ... It is shameful."
The recent cases of educator sexual abuse have rattled some local communities. Some cases have divided courtrooms.
When Southgate Anderson High School teacher Joseph Brickey was sentenced in February to 17 1/2 to 40 years in prison, at least 34 teachers and students wrote letters to the judge saying Brickey was well-respected and had to be innocent.
In court, his supporters sat to the right, filling all the benches. To the left, the 17-year-old victim bobbed her legs nervously. She and her supporters, a smaller crowd, had waited months for this day in Washtenaw Circuit Court, where Brickey was sentenced for having sex with her in a Red Roof Inn in Ann Arbor five times in 2003.
"You were supposed to lead by example," the former student told Brickey. "But you are nothing but a lying coward."
Brickey, serving time in Lapeer County, is filing an appeal. "I am an honorable man. ... It did not happen," he said in court.
Oftentimes, teacher sex abuse cases never make it to the courtroom. Cases are pleaded down because kids fear testifying or they may never come forward to avoid "tattling."
"Generally, parents don't like to have their kids testify and the whole school knowing about it," said Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, the former chief of the office's sex crime unit. "And the rest of the teachers rally around whoever is accused. Generally, the teacher is a well-liked teacher, and the charge seems so out of character for whoever is accused. There is no advantage for these kids to come forward. ... As soon as they come forward, their life is turned upside down."
Then there is the individual susceptibility of the students.
Clark Sexton, former principal of Agape Christian Academy in Canton Township, is scheduled to go on trial in July for initiating a sexual relationship with a female student.
The girl says he told her he loved her. And at 15, her first love held a lot of sway.
"You know what, sadly, I fell for it," the girl, now 20, said of the married Sexton's pledge that he wished he could have married her. "And I wish I wouldn't have, because it was all lies."
Sexton maintains he didn't have sexual relations with the student before she was 16 -- the legal age of consent in Michigan. The law was changed recently to make sex with a student of any age a crime.
"He's not denying there was contact after 16," said Sexton's defense attorney, Paul Clark.
Teachers stay certified
The Detroit News found several teachers convicted of crimes against minors who never had their certification revoked. They include Steven Dollaway, 46, who pleaded guilty in Oakland County in 2002 to assault and battery in exchange for six criminal sexual conduct charges involving minors being dropped; Matthew Mankoff, 29, a former Deckerville Community Schools band teacher, who was sentenced in 2003 to 1-5 years in prison for trying to meet an undercover officer, posing as a minor on the Internet, for sex; and William Ayler, 51, a former Detroit Public Schools teacher who pleaded guilty in 1997 to one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.
The Department of Education blames prosecutors for not alerting it of the convictions, as required by law. Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said his office alerted Detroit Public Schools about Ayler's arrest, but not of the conviction.
"We are a little bit at fault in some fashion," Gorcyca said, "although they were placed on notice of the charges and the fact it was awaiting charges in circuit court."
Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Maria Miller declined to comment on whether the department notified the state of Mankoff's conviction. Mankoff's certification recently expired, said the Department of Education.
"It's been our routine practice to send a letter to notify the school where the person is employed when the case is bound over," Miller said. "And then we notify the state upon conviction. We are going to modify the procedure now that we have discovered this problem to make sure we get a written verification or confirmation that the notification has been received."
In the Dollaway case, the former gym teacher at Commerce Elementary School in the Walled Lake Consolidated School District was charged with six counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and three counts of assault and battery amid allegations he touched female students' breasts and buttocks during class and snapped their bra straps, according to Oakland County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Deborah Carley.
The case was difficult to prove, as the touching took place in a gymnastics class, she said.
The charges were downgraded and, as part of the deal, Dollaway swore under oath he would give up his teaching certificate, Carley said.
State officials were never notified of the plea deal. Dollaway still has a teaching certificate, according to state records.
Without the Department of Education knowing of such deals, a teacher could get a duplicate copy of the certificate with ease, department officials said.