Saturday, January 31, 2009

ACTION ALERT: MO House Bill 96 "School Protection Measures" 2009

Missouri House Bill 96 has been introduced into the House of Representatives. This bill is to repeal sections 160.261, 160.660, 161.650, 167.020, 167.022, 167.023, 167.029, 167.115, 167.117, 167.161, 167.164, 167.621, 167.624, 167.627, 167.630, 168.133, and 210.102, and form a new policy for "School Protection Measures."

The bill can be read in its entirety here:

To say this bill is a "hot mess" is being generous.

Below are some of the more alarming changes and/or additions to the provisions, along with our "notes" relating our concerns. Please join us in expressing our concerns to the bill's Sponsor, Representative Wallace, and the others supporting this bill:

Missouri House Bill 96 Specific Concerns:

7. All school district personnel responsible for the care and supervision of students are authorized to hold every pupil strictly accountable for any disorderly conduct in school or on any property of the school, on any school bus going to or returning from school, during school-sponsored activities, or during intermission or recess periods.

NOTE: This provision violates the federal IDEA and is discriminatory towards children with disabilities in that it does not include any provisions or exceptions for children with disabilities whose "behaviors" or "actions" - including disorderly conduct - may be a resultant of manifestations of that child's disabilities.

8. Teachers and other authorized district personnel in public schools responsible for the care, supervision, and discipline of schoolchildren, including volunteers selected with reasonable care by the school district, shall not be civilly liable when acting in conformity with the established [policy of discipline] policies developed by each board [under this section], including but not limited to policies of student discipline or when reporting to his or her supervisor or other person as mandated by state law acts of school violence or threatened acts of school violence, within the course and scope of the duties of the teacher, authorized district personnel or volunteer, when such individual is acting in conformity with the established policies developed by the board. Nothing in this section shall be construed to create a new cause of action against such school district, or to relieve the school district from liability for the negligent acts of such persons.

*NOTE: This effectively renders district personnel and any volunteers working on behalf of the district exempt from civil suits resulting from staff abuse of a child.

9. Each school board shall define in its discipline policy acts of violence and any other acts that constitute a serious violation of that policy. "Acts of violence" as defined by school boards shall include but not be limited to exertion of physical force by a student with the intent to do serious bodily harm to another person while on school property, including a school bus in service on behalf of the district, or while involved in school activities. School districts shall for each student enrolled in the school district compile and maintain records of any serious violation of the district's discipline policy. Such records shall be made available to teachers and other school district employees with a need to know while acting within the scope of their assigned duties, and shall be provided as required in section 167.020, RSMo, to any school district in which the student subsequently attempts to enroll. *NOTE: No provisions for violence done against students by school personnel.

*NOTE: There are no provisions for or explanations of what constitutes violence committed against students by school personnel.

10. Spanking or the use of force to protect persons or property, when administered by [certificated] personnel of a school district in a reasonable manner in accordance with the local board of education's written policy of discipline, is not abuse within the meaning of chapter 210, RSMo, as long as no allegation of sexual misconduct arises from the incident, and in addition, in the case of spanking, as long as another employee of the school is present as a witness.

NOTE: This is one of the more alarming change thus far. The term "reasonable manner" is subjective and as such, is individually defined. Therefore, it can in no way be definitively or logically defined. Anyone could say that their decision to spank a child was "reasonable," and who could argue with that when the person administering the spanking is the one determining what is "reasonable?" Additionally, research indicates that schools that use "corporal punishment" have lower test scores and higher drop out rates than schools that do not use corporal punishment. There is also no peer-reviewed evidence based research that supports that "corporal punishment" of students is effective, yet ample evidence of the physical and psychological harm done to victims of corporal punishment. There is also ample evidence to support that positive behavioral interventions and supports are a much more effective way to address "problem behaviors." It is therefore incomprehensible that corporal punishment has not yet been abolished in Missouri schools.

The provisions of sections 210.110 to 210.165, RSMo, notwithstanding, the children's division [of family services] shall not have jurisdiction over or investigate any report of alleged child abuse arising out of or related to any spanking administered in a reasonable manner by any [certificated] school personnel pursuant to a written policy of discipline established by the board of education of the school district. Upon receipt of any reports of child abuse by the children's division [of family services] pursuant to sections 210.110 to 210.165, RSMo, which allegedly involves personnel of a school district, the children's division [of family services] shall notify the superintendent of schools of the district or, if the person named in the alleged incident is the superintendent of schools, the president of the school board of the school district where the alleged incident occurred.

If, after an initial investigation, the superintendent of schools or the president of the school board finds that the report involves an alleged incident of child abuse other than the administration of a spanking or the use of force to protect persons or property by [certificated] school personnel pursuant to a written policy of discipline or [a] that the report was made for the sole purpose of harassing a public school employee, the superintendent of schools or the president of the school board shall immediately refer the matter back to the children's division [of family services] and take no further action.

In all matters referred back to the children's division [of family services], the division [of family services] shall treat the report in the same manner as other reports of alleged child abuse received by the division.

If the report pertains to an alleged incident which arose out of or is related to a spanking or the use of force to protect persons or property administered by [certificated] personnel of a school district pursuant to a written policy of discipline or a report made for the sole purpose of harassing a public school employee, a notification of the reported child abuse shall be sent by the superintendent of schools or the president of the school board to the juvenile officer of the county in which the alleged incident occurred. The report shall be jointly investigated by the juvenile officer or a law enforcement officer designated by the juvenile officer and the superintendent of schools or, if the subject of the report is the superintendent of schools, by the juvenile officer or a law enforcement officer designated by the juvenile officer and the president of the school board or such president's designee.

The investigation shall begin no later than forty-eight hours after notification from the children's division [of family services] is received, and shall consist of, but need not be limited to, interviewing and recording statements of the child and the child's parents or guardian within two working days after the start of the investigation, of the school district personnel allegedly involved in the report, and of any witnesses to the alleged incident.

The juvenile officer or a law enforcement officer designated by the juvenile officer and the investigating school district personnel shall issue separate reports of their findings and recommendations after the conclusion of the investigation to the school board of the school district within seven days after receiving notice from the children's division [of family services]. The reports shall contain a statement of conclusion as to whether the report of alleged child abuse is substantiated or is unsubstantiated. The school board shall consider the separate reports and shall issue its findings and conclusions and the action to be taken, if any, within seven days after receiving the last of the two reports. The findings and conclusions shall be made in substantially the following form:

NOTE: THIS is the most alarming thing about this provision. How could this even remotely be construed as legal; the federal government, supported by circuit court decisions, has established that Protection and Advocacy (Disability Rights Network) is mandated to investigate allegations of abuse in public schools and that schools cannot deny P&A’s access to the school to conduct an investigation. The Division of Children's Services is also mandated to investigate abuse allegations. Yet the House is trying to remove the rights of the Division of Children’s Services from investigating abuse allegations in schools. What legal authority is the State House of Rep basing this decision on? How can they refuse an entity's mandated authority and/or right to investigate allegations of abuse? This provision is not only absolutely terrifying, but it also makes one wonder what they're so concerned about hiding if they are attempting to establish what outside agencies - which are mandated to investigation abuse - are permitted to consider "abuse." Seems like an over-reach of the state's authority to us...

162.215. 1. District school boards may authorize and commission school officers to enforce laws relating to crimes committed on school premises, at school activities, and on school buses. School officers shall be certified law enforcement officers, as defined in section 556.061, RSMo, and shall comply with the provisions of chapter 590, RSMo. The powers and duties of a law enforcement officer shall continue throughout the employee's tenure as a school officer.

2. School officers shall abide by district school board policies and shall consult with and coordinate activities through the school superintendent or the superintendent's designee. School officers' authority shall be limited to crimes committed on school premises, at school activities, and on school buses.

QUESTION: The statement that the "powers and duties of a law enforcement officer shall continue throughout the employee's tenure as a school officer" is in direct contradiction with that "authority [be] limited to crimes committed on school premises..." Additionally, what legal authority permits the redefinition of and limitation in scope of duties assigned to “certified law enforcement officer?”

All crimes involving any sexual offense or any felony involving the threat or use of force shall remain under the authority of the local jurisdiction where the crime occurred. School officers may conduct any justified stop on school property and enforce any local violation that occurs on school grounds. School officers shall have the authority to stop, detain, and arrest for crimes committed on school property, at school activities, and on school buses.

NOTE: Again, these are missing provisions regarding children with disabilities. Also, do we really want or need trained police officers in our schools? Are Missouri schools so violent or is crime so non-existent in the state of Missouri that the state could afford to pull trained police officers off the streets to "fight crime" in schools? Where is the funding coming from to recruit all these trained officers?

167.117. 1. In any instance when any person is believed to have committed an act which if committed by an adult would be assault in the first, second or third degree, sexual assault, or deviate sexual assault against a pupil or school employee, while on school property, including a school bus in service on behalf of the district, or while involved in school activities, the principal shall immediately report such incident to the appropriate local law enforcement agency and to the superintendent, except in any instance when any person is believed to have committed an act which if committed by an adult would be assault in the third degree and a written agreement as to the procedure for the reporting of such incidents of third degree assault has been executed between the superintendent of the school district and the appropriate local law enforcement agency, the principal shall report such incident to the appropriate local law enforcement agency in accordance with such agreement.

QUESTION: Why aren’t these acts clearly spelled out? Are teachers supposed to commit to memory what a 1st, 2nd or 3rd degree offense is? How are teachers/school administrators to determine the “degree” of offense? Isn’t it up to district attorneys to decide what “degree” the offense was?

4. A school employee, superintendent or such person's designee who in good faith provides information to law enforcement or juvenile authorities pursuant to this section or section 160.261, RSMo, shall not be civilly liable for providing such information.
5. Any school official responsible for reporting pursuant to this section or section 160.261, RSMo, who willfully neglects or refuses to perform this duty shall be subject to the penalty established pursuant to section 162.091, RSMo.

QUESTION: What are the penalties for knowingly and/or falsely reporting “information” to the proper authorities as retaliation against a parent for advocating for their child’s right to FAPE? *NOTE: Effectively renders district personnel and any volunteers working on behalf of the district exempt from civil suits resulting from “good faith reporting” so long as they give the slightest indication their intentions were “good.”

The school board of any district, after notice to parents or others having custodial care and a hearing upon charges preferred, may suspend or expel a pupil for conduct which is prejudicial to good order and discipline in the schools or which tends to impair the morale or good conduct of the pupils. In addition to the authority granted in section 167.171, a school board may authorize, by general rule, the immediate removal of a pupil upon a finding by the principal, superintendent, or school board that the pupil poses a threat of harm to such pupil or others, as evidenced by the prior conduct of such pupil.

NOTE: This means schools can effectively suspend or expel a student for ANY reason.

3. Any qualified employee shall be held harmless and immune from any civil liability for administering medication or medical services in good faith and according to standard medical practices.
NOTE: Doctors don’t even have this type of immunity! Why should school personnel be exempt?

Any trained employee shall be held harmless and immune from any civil liability for administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other lifesaving methods in good faith and according to standard medical practices.

NOTE: Again, DOCTORS don’t even have this type of immunity! Why should school personnel be exempt?

The school district shall ensure that a criminal background check is conducted on any person employed after January 1, 2005, authorized to have contact with pupils and prior to the individual having contact with any pupil. Such persons include, but are not limited to, administrators, teachers, aides, paraprofessionals, assistants, secretaries, custodians, cooks, and nurses. The school district shall also ensure that a criminal background check is conducted for school bus drivers. The district may allow such drivers to operate buses pending the result of the criminal background check. For bus drivers, the background check shall be conducted on drivers employed by the school district or employed by a pupil transportation company under contract with the school district.

QUESTION: Why is this only applicable to employees hired after 2005? How were employees prior to 2005 vetted? Why isn’t the policy worded “Anyone hired after 2005 or who has not previously been subjected to a background check, including fingerprinting, must do so?”

AL: Elementary School Teacher Disciplines by Putting Students In "Box"

Posted: Jan 30, 2009 12:05 AM EST

Huntsville, AL- (WAAY) The parents of an autistic child say their daughter was forced to sit inside a box as a form of punishment.

Those parents contacted WAAY 31, saying they were outraged at how the teacher at Flat Rock Elementary School dealt with their special needs child.

They claim their child was forced into this wooden container that looks like a wardrobe box.

"She has put my child in an unsafe state," mother Penny Shrader said. "I won't allow it to happen to any other child or mine."

Shrader said her daughter's teacher put the 7-year-old in a box after she made a mess from eating ice cream.

Another parent told Shrader they'd seen the teacher put the girl in the box.

Since her daughter was subjected to the punishment, Shrader said the girl's asthma symptoms have worsened.

"This is what I'm trying to press to the school. It's not bad to discipline a normal kid in time out, it might be acceptable," Shrader said.

Jackson County School Superintendent Ken Harding said he confronted the teacher about the incident, and the teacher denied it. He said the teacher did admit to putting four other students in the box, but not Shrader's daughter.

He said the school board is looking into he incident, but feels the problem has been resolved since the box was taken out of the classroom.

Shrader says she's still not satisfied.

"To simply say you've taken and removed the box and talked to the teacher does not satisfy my child is safe when I'm an hour away trying to make money to raise her," she said. "It's just not acceptable."

Several federal, state and county agencies are investigating. The case is drawing national media attention.

CT: Police - school strip searches not criminal

January 30, 2009,0,7138990.story

SHELTON, Conn. - Shelton police and state prosecutors say no crime was committed when teachers at the Pine Academy school strip-searched four students last month.

Shelton police say they have finished their investigation.

A lawyer for the four teenage students, Robert Berke, says he won't challenge the police findings, but he plans to file a lawsuit alleging unreasonable searches.

Berke says school Principal Patricia Nicolari ordered the searches on Dec. 2 after a teacher reported $70 missing. He says two male teachers searched the students, making them strip down to their underwear, but the missing cash wasn't found.

The principal and the two teachers were placed on administrative leave after the incident. It's not clear whether they're back on the job.

Friday, January 30, 2009

MO: Fight over care at Mapaville state school moves into court

NOTE: A nurse admitted that she knew some loud noises will induce a seizure in a child wih epilepsy - and was recorded as DELIBERATELY and repeatedly ringing a bell, telling others, "Watch me as I thrown him into a seizure."

Other abuses were recorded. Yet the school is claiming they've done no wrong...

By Robert Patrick

Mapaville — Sheila Scott's severely disabled son Chandler cannot tell her what he learned at his state-run school in this Jefferson County town. Although he is 12, he cannot communicate how he is treated. So the mother started hiding a tape recorder in his wheelchair.

What she didn't hear disturbed her: no distinctive pop from the opening of a can of his PediaSure lunch, none of the familiar sounds of him eating.

What she did hear was disturbing, too. In one case, it was the sound of a school nurse ringing a bell and saying, "Watch me throw him into a seizure," and then ringing it about 30 times more.

The nurse later admitted to an inquiry panel for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, that she knew loud noises might trigger seizures in epileptic children such as Chandler.

In a 2-1 decision last month, that panel sustained Scott's complaints of abuse and neglect. But neither side is satisfied.

DESE says the panel went too far, and is seeking an order in federal court in St. Louis to overturn the finding as unfounded.

Scott and parents of eight other students are suing too, saying the panel did not go far enough. They're asking a federal judge to close all 35 state schools for the severely disabled because of a "continued and persistent failure" to properly educate the disabled as required by law.

They ask that the state be forced to fire offending Mapaville staffers and install Web cameras there and at similar schools, so parents and officials can monitor what goes on.

"These kids are shoveled into these state schools to be forgotten about — not to be educated and not to be treated with respect," said Scott, of rural Jefferson County. "It seems like nobody cares how they were treated."

Jonathan Beck, the lawyer representing her and other parents, said the secret recordings she and two other mothers made were just a snapshot. "These are just the things we know," Beck said. "What about all the days and all of the classrooms we didn't tape? What did we miss?"

The suit claims the Mapaville school has chronically inadequate supervision and undertrained employees, and failed Chandler "through a persistent pattern of profound incompetence, willful neglect, gross misjudgment and reckless indifference to his rights."

State education officials say in their suit that Chandler got an appropriate education, and that the panel's decision was "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable." The Missouri attorney general's office, which represents the school, declined to comment.

Responding to questions by e-mail, Charlie Taylor, superintendent of the Missouri Schools for the Severely Disabled, a part of DESE, said that complaints about Mapaville were met with "a thorough investigation" and that "corrective actions were taken" as needed.

He declined to comment on personnel matters, or specifics of the state's appeal.

"We believe that all the state schools provide a safe and caring environment for the students entrusted to our care," Taylor wrote this week.


Chandler's host of medical problems, including cerebral palsy and epilepsy, put him at the developmental level of a 3- to 9-month-old. He must eat liquid or pureed food, doesn't cry and doesn't sweat, leaving him vulnerable to heat.

Scott said she became concerned when she worked as an aide in Mapaville in 2007. She said she saw students left in their wheelchairs all day instead of being engaged in therapy or education. She also said other workers came to her with concerns about her son's being left in a hot classroom.

After a day when she picked up Chandler soaking in his own urine, Scott quit the job, saying she couldn't work there and advocate for her son at the same time.

She bought a digital recorder at a Radio Shack, cut a small slit in the fabric covering the bottom of his wheelchair and secured it inside with Velcro. At night, she downloaded the recordings to a computer and spent hours reviewing them. She said she pulled Chandler out for good after spending one long night listening in vain for the sounds of him being fed.

Two other parents also made recordings.

One of them, Jamie Harvell, 39, of Festus, said that her 17-year-old son Joshua, who has a genetic disorder, once had an excellent teacher at Mapaville. But in recent years with different staff members, she said, Joshua did not get the exercise he needed. Her recording was unusable, and her family's complaint was rejected by a different state panel.

Harvell now home-schools Joshua.

The remaining parent, Melissa Conner, of Pevely, also lost her case on behalf of son Colten, who she claimed was not being properly educated.

On Dec. 8, the panel reviewing Scott's case ruled 2-1 that Chandler had not received a fair and adequate education from the first day of the 2007-08 school year, as required by law.

"It makes us feel like we can win one of these," said Beck, the lawyer, who is paid by a Crystal City advocacy group, the Disability Resource Association.


The panel members said that the manner in which staff talked to students in Chandler's classroom "seemed emotionally abusive," and suggested that if overheard by them, "it would at least be appropriate to report the person for abuse and neglect to the appropriate authorities."

The ruling said the "derogatory behavior" on the tapes seemed "at least fairly routine."

Scott "did not believe, for justifiable reasons, that it was safe for her child to attend" Mapaville, the opinion says, and "had no other choice" than to pull her son out of school.

Witnesses during the four-day administrative hearing in September testified that they had spotted staffers doing puzzles or reading books or magazines instead of interacting with the children — even getting a exercise workout during school hours.

One volunteer said she saw an aide in Chandler's classroom discipline a child with squirts of water in the face.

The panel noted that Chandler appeared to make "remarkable progress" once he was at home, working with a state-provided teacher and therapists under his mother's close supervision.

The ruling said Chandler should get a personal aide and extra therapy as compensation for his treatment at school.

The dissenting hearing officer, George Wilson, wrote that the school system was denied due process because it didn't even know what was at issue before the hearing. He said that Scott did not meet their burden of proof, and that the panel allowed hearsay testimony and audio recordings of "highly questionable evidentiary value."

Wilson declined to be interviewed about the case, as did the chief hearing officer, Samara N. Klein.

Chandler's teacher, a long-term substitute, did not have a college degree and had no education classes among the 60 credit hours she had accumulated toward an associate degree, the panel report said. She is now an aide in another classroom.

Sheila Scott said that she would educate Chandler herself if the state stopped paying for schooling at home, and that he would not return to Mapaville. "It's never going to happen." 314-621-5154

Thursday, January 29, 2009

PA: Wilkinsburg Teacher Arrested On Sex Charges

Thursday, January 29, 2009 – updated: 6:48 pm EST January 29, 2009

WILKINSBURG, Pa. -- A fifth-grade math teacher at Kelly Elementary School in Wilkinsburg is in jail, accused of touching one of his students inappropriately in the boys' bathroom.

According to the police criminal complaint, 37-year-old Michael Kosor was arrested Tuesday after the parent of a 10-year-old boy told police her son was touched by his math teacher while he was using the restroom on Jan. 14.

The criminal complaint accuses Kosor of walking up behind the boy and then touching his buttocks.

According to the boy's version, Kosor did not say anything and the boy told police he immediately pulled up his pants and ran out of the restroom.

Kosor, who has no criminal record, is charged with indecent assault and corruption of minors.

The Wilkinsburg School District told Channel 11 that student safety is the district’s priority.

The allegations are under investigation by the district, and the district said it’s in cooperation with local authorities.

The teacher has been put on leave pending completion of the investigation.

He is being held in jail on $50,000 bond.

GA: Lawuit tossed over teen’s hanging at Alpine

Note: Judge says there was no evidence of civil rights violations - yet a child DIED while in a locked seclusion room; he committed suicide after an educator handed him a belt and basically told him to go hang himself...HOW was that NOT a civil rights violation??

By Stephen Gurr

POSTED Jan. 29, 2009 12:16 a.m.

A judge has thrown out a lawsuit against a Gainesville special-needs school where a 13-year-old boy hanged himself in a "time out" room.

Don and Tina King, the parents of Jonathan King, sued Alpine Psychoeducational Program and its supervisory agency, Pioneer Regional Educational Service Agency, alleging their son’s constitutional rights were violated at the Athens Street facility where he hanged himself in November 2004.

Jonathan committed suicide in a seclusion room for unruly students using a rope that was given to him to by a school official earlier in the day to keep his pants up.

The Kings alleged in their lawsuit that Alpine and Pioneer RESA had a "constitutionally infirm" set of policies and procedures that presented a risk of violating Jonathan’s rights.

Hall County Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller, in an order granting summary judgment to the defendants, found that the Kings did not have a case under the specific federal civil rights law they used as the basis of their suit.

The judge wrote that the Kings could not show that Alpine or Pioneer RESA exercised any policy, procedure or custom that violated Jonathan’s rights. Fuller, citing previous court rulings, also found there was no so-called "special relationship" between Jonathan and the school that could be compared with a prison inmate whose rights are violated.

Fuller wrote in his opinion that while the decision by a school employee to allow Jonathan to keep the makeshift belt "may have amounted to negligence, plaintiffs have not pointed to any policy, procedure or custom of defendant Pioneer that violated a right or privilege afforded to Jonathan (under the federal law)."

The Kings did not sue on the grounds of negligence. Under state sovereign immunity laws, Pioneer RESA would have been protected from such a claim.

Fuller earlier dismissed the Georgia Department of Education as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Phil Hartley, the attorney who successfully represented Pioneer RESA, said Wednesday that "RESA and Alpine were very pleased that the judge agreed there had been no violation of constitutional rights, and were particularly pleased with the finding that there was no evidence that the student posed a suicide risk presented in the record."

"We’re glad to have this stage of the matter behind us," Hartley said. "Obviously this is a tragic situation, and RESA has continued to express its sympathy to the family."

Wyc Orr, the attorney representing the Kings, called Fuller’s decision "a huge blow and threat to the well-being and safety of children across the country."

"It leaves the most vulnerable among us completely unprotected," Orr said. "This decision allows a school system in a case of predictable suicide to completely deny any responsibility or accountability and gives a judicial pass for that wrongdoing."

Orr said he would appeal the ruling to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

PA: Luzerne judge broke his vow to reform

NOTE: "Luzerne County District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll, who assisted with the investigation into the judges, said last year that the case lacked merit because it identified only a handful of juveniles who were affected."

This is how the justice system works in PA....ignore "and justice for all" in favor of "and justice only if you're lucky to have been one of a significant number abused by a corrupt system..."

Every system I've worked with in PA is like this....hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil...until the "evil" is so rampant it can no longer be hidden away; so it becomes more of a positive PR stunt that anything else....when they have no choice but to fix one series of problems to divert attention from the numerous others...

Posted on Wed, Jan. 28, 2009
By John Sullivan Inquirer Staff Writer

Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. said he'd never do it again.

In 2000, the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia accused the Luzerne County Juvenile Court judge of detaining a 13-year-old boy without informing him of his constitutional right to an attorney.

A state court agreed.

"Even if they come in and tell me that they don't want a lawyer, they're going to have one," Ciavarella told the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader in 2001.

Yet for years afterward, Ciavarella repeatedly violated the rights of hundreds of children by shipping them to a juvenile center without telling them they had the right to an attorney, according to a petition to the state Supreme Court filed by the Juvenile Law Center.

On Monday, Ciavarella and another judge said they would plead guilty to charges that they hid $2.6 million in secret payments from one of the centers' owners and a construction contractor.

The charges include allegations that the judges locked up juveniles at the detention centers even when probation officers recommended against it.

Through an attorney yesterday, Ciavarella declined to comment on allegations by the law center that he violated the rights of juvenile offenders by failing to tell them of their legal rights.

In a statement, Ciavarella's attorney, Al Flora Jr., said the judge denied sending any child to a detention center because of money.

The revelations renewed the controversy over Ciavarella's court practices and have prompted the juvenile center in Philadelphia, which filed both petitions, to consider further moves, including an appeal to a federal court.

"There are hundreds of kids whose constitutional rights have been violated in the most flagrant way," said Marsha L. Levick, the center's legal director.

"It was stunning to us that the same judge was still doing the same thing" he was doing in 2000, she said.

The case revolves around two child care centers: PA Child Care L.L.C. and Western PA Child Care L.L.C., both of which opened in the last few years.

Federal authorities allege that Ciavarella and another Luzerne County Court judge, Michael T. Conahan, accepted payment from two people, identified as Participant 1 and Participant 2 in the federal charges.

Participant 1 is described as a Luzerne County lawyer who conducted business as PA Child Care L.L.C.

PA Child Care was owned at the time by Butler County lawyer Robert A. Powell and Pittsburgh-area investment banker Gregory R. Zappala, according to the state Department of Public Welfare.

Powell sold his interest in the facility to Zappala in June 2008, after the alleged illegal activity occurred.

An attorney for Powell, who has not been charged, said his client had no comment. Officials with PA Child Care did not return a call seeking comment from Zappala. Zappala is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Participant 2 is identified as a contractor who was a friend of Ciavarella's who built the center.

The charges also allege that the judges removed funding from a competing county facility that they said was unsafe and helped secure deals that reaped the new detention facilities millions of dollars.

In an audit, the DPW found that PA Child Care earned an excessive profit and that the county could have built three detention centers for the cost of what it paid to PA Child Care.

Now, the Juvenile Law Center is considering reprising its petition to the state Supreme Court, which declined to hear it this month. It may also consider a civil action.

"You have, arguably, a rogue judge acting outside the requirements and obligations of his office, making decisions influenced by financial remuneration on the backs of children," Levick said. "That's something the Supreme Court ought to want to fix."

The Juvenile Law Center was joined in its 2008 case by the DPW. In a brief, the welfare department said the rate at which juveniles were unrepresented by attorneys in Luzerne County was 10 times the state average and "so dramatic as to require inference of a systematic deprivation of the constitutional rights of accused juveniles by the Luzerne County Court."

The state also noted that out-of-home placements in the county were 21/2 times higher than the state average, a number that would surely have been lower if more juveniles had attorneys, Corbett said.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett also filed a brief saying that 60 percent of the youths who did not have attorneys landed in detention centers. He said the allegations raised serious concerns about the fairness and integrity of the proceedings.

Luzerne County District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll, who assisted with the investigation into the judges, said last year that the case lacked merit because it identified only a handful of juveniles who were affected.

One case the juvenile law center cited in its petition was that of high school student Jessica Van Reeth, a good student who had never been in trouble before she was caught with a lighter and a marijuana pipe.

She and her father did not recall signing a waiver of counsel. Van Reeth, who was 16, had been suspended from school for 10 days. A Juvenile Court officer recommended probation because she seemed like a good young person.

But in a 90-second hearing in 2007, Van Reeth admitted having the lighter and pipe. Ciavarella asked whether she had heard him speak at her school about drugs.

She had.

Ciavarella then sentenced her to three months in a wilderness camp.

Contact staff writer John Sullivan at 215-854-2473

PA: Editorial: Judges Sentenced

Kids for cash
Posted on Wed, Jan. 28, 2009

The setting is Pennsylvania coal country, but it's a story right out of Dickens' grim 19th-century landscape: Two of Luzerne County's most senior judges on Monday were accused of sending children to jail in return for kickbacks.

The judges, Luzerne County President Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., 58, and his predecessor, Senior Judge Michael T. Conahan, 56, will serve seven years in jail under a plea agreement.

They're alleged to have pocketed $2.6 million in payments from juvenile detention center operators.

When a federal judge reviews their plea, though, the question ought to be whether the punishment is adequate - along with the judges being bounced from the bench, disbarred, and losing their pensions.

If the allegations are true, Ciavarella and Conahan were involved in a disgraceful cabal far worse than one that merely lined their pockets.

First, the judges helped the detention centers land a county contract worth $58 million. Then their alleged scheme was to guarantee the operators a steady income by detaining juveniles, often on petty stuff.

Many of the kids were railroaded, according to allegations lodged with the state Supreme Court last year by the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, an advocacy group.

In asking the court to intervene in April, the law center cited hundreds of examples where teens accused of minor mischief were pressured to waive their right to lawyers, and then shipped to a detention center.

One teen was given a 90-day sentence for having parodied a school administrator online. Such unwarranted detentions left "both children and parents feeling bewildered, violated and traumatized," center lawyers said.

"Very few people would stand up" to the Luzerne judges, according to the law center's executive director, Robert G. Schwartz.

Fortunately, Juvenile Law Center was willing to do so, along with backing from state Attorney General Tom Corbett's office and the state Department of Public Welfare.

The blind justices on the state's high court, though, took a pass. Only last month, they offered no explanation in declining to take up the law center's request that the court step up.

Now, the state Supreme Court should revisit the issue, since the scope of corruption alleged at the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre could further undermine confidence in the courts statewide.

Authorities need to redress running roughshod over juveniles' rights - a process also likely to bring damage suits. While the local district attorney pledges to "do our best to right the situation," this calls for an independent, outside review.

The two judges' downfall may have rooted out the worst perpetrators of this evil scheme, but the abuse of power alleged in Luzerne County is so startling that it should send shock waves for reform around the state court system.

PA: 5-Year-Old Leaves School Unnoticed, Found Wandering Streets

NOTE: The school knew this child was missing for an hour before someone reported it to the authorities...

Thursday, January 29, 2009 – updated: 11:33 pm EST January 29, 2009

PITTSBURGH -- A 5-year-old was found wandering the streets of Arlington without a coat on Thursday afternoon. A gas company worker spotted the child and called 911.

Police said the Brandon Williams was in gym class at Arlington Elementary School when he got upset about a disagreement with his teacher and walked out.

School Police Chief, Bob Fadzen, said it was nearly an hour before his department was notified the boy was missing.

Authorities believe the child had been missing for about an hour before he was found outside.

Police said the school determined the boy was missing when a teacher came into the gym to take students to the next class.

A spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Public Schools said teachers and administrators searched the entire building within minutes of Brandon’s disappearance never realizing he’d left school property.

The child is back home and is OK.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Action Alert: PA DRN Disability Harrassment and Bullying in PA Schools

The PA Disability Rights Network is conducting research into "Disability Harrassment and Bullying." Although the title it a bit misleading, the survey is designed to collect information on school abuse, seeking answers to questions about physical, emotional, and psychological abuse from teachers, staff, other students, etc.

There is also a section at the bottom to put additional "important information." So if any of you have contacted them in the past and have been refused help, like I was, please consider telling them.

The survey can be found here:

This is the "comment" I left for them. Unless we speak up, nothing will change...

"Please do more than just "talk" about or share stories of abuse. Please investigate when parents call to report allegations of school abuse to you; please stop turning parents away when they report abuse allegations to you. There's nothing more devastating to a parent than to know their child has been abused and they weren't able to stop it; to know the agencies federally and state mandated to investigate those "allegations" - who could stop it - won't investigate; to not know where else to turn to for help when no one wants to get involved.

Please help us protect our children!

Thank you."

Jennifer Searcy
Founder/Director of Public Policy and Affairs

Monday, January 26, 2009

CT: Debate rages over treatment of autistic student

Education experts discuss tactics of ex-Fairfield teacher
By Genevieve Reilly
staff writer
Updated: 01/25/2009 08:45:45 PM EST

The incident left many shocked and outraged.

A special education teacher at Dwight School in Fairfield, in an apparent effort to distract a 6-year-old girl with autism from fixating on her striped shirt and scratching herself, had the girl take off the shirt. The child then sat in the classroom naked from the waist up for about 15 minutes before a paraprofessional who saw what had happened notified the principal.

The teacher, Elizabeth Valeriay, 53, of Madison, was arrested earlier this month by police and charged with intentional cruelty to persons. She is no longer employed by the school district and her case is awaiting disposition in Bridgeport Superior Court.

Valeriay's lawyer, William Bilcheck, had no comment on his client's case. "We just had the initial arraignment [Wednesday] and we'll be back in about a month's time," he said. The next scheduled court date is Feb. 13.

The Dwight incident occurred Oct. 6, 2008, and the family was notified the next day by the school principal. The student's father contacted police Oct. 26 to document the incident and make sure no abuse had occurred.

Valeriay defended her actions to the police during the investigation, instigated at the request of the student's father. A special education teacher for 30 years, Valeriay told them that removing the source of distraction -- in this case, the shirt -- is an accepted method of handling a child with autism. Valeriay holds a master's degree in special education and was employed by the Fairfield school district for 13 years.

After the incident surfaced, a rumor circulated among parents that the paraprofessional who reported the incident to the principal was fired, but Matt O'Connor, communications director for the Fairfield paraprofessionals' union, said that is not true.

O'Connor said during the district's investigation into the incident, the paraprofessional who worked with Valeriay was interviewed. But because it involves a personnel matter, he said he could not comment further.

Message boards debated whether the approach taken by Valeriay was the correct one, but as those in the field will agree, what works for one student might not work for another.

And while she wouldn't comment specifically on the Fairfield incident, since she knows Valeriay, Sara Reed, executive director of the Autism Society of Connecticut, did say distraction and/or removal of the object "is a technique that is often used in dealing with fixations."

"Autism spectrum disorders affect each person differently, and while there are overarching areas of similarity, for each and every individual on the spectrum, intervention approaches need to be tailored to that particular individual," said Reed. "We often say that a teacher who is working with a child on the autism spectrum needs a large tool box filled with many different tools that are useful in different circumstances."

The problem, Reed said, is there are few "road maps," and teachers and parents must "use the old-fashioned, trial-and-error methods relying on information about the child's needs to determine which approach to try first."

The tools chosen, she said, need to be the ones most appropriate for that child. Many work, but only in the right circumstances. Often, she said, a teacher, school district or parent will have success with one approach and try to use it on the next child without taking into consideration the differences between the two children.

"It isn't the program or approach that is the problem in and of itself, it is just not the right one at the right time," Reed said.

Karen Cubbellotti, director of children's services at the Kennedy Center, echoed Reed's comments.

"That's very true, just as it is with any child," Cubbellotti said. "What works with one child doesn't necessarily work with another child. You need to know that child."

What adds to the complexity of autism and its treatment, she said, is that no one knows what causes autism. Some professionals subscribe to using just one type of approach, while others advocate a combination of different methods.

"There are different types of interventions, there could be an endless list of different approaches," Cubbellotti said. "There are right ways and some wrong ways to intervene" but again it all depends on the individual child.

The Kennedy Center, she said, provides training programs and workshops for the families of children with autism, along with opportunities for social interaction. The workshops are also open to area professionals.

According to the Autism Speaks Web site, 1 in 150 children is diagnosed with autism, with a new case diagnosed almost every 20 minutes. Autism manifests itself in many different forms, and while children who have it are likely to exhibit similar traits, according to the organization, "They're also as individual as the colors of a rainbow, each one managing a grab bag of symptoms." One may rarely speak and have difficulty learning to read and write, while another may be high functioning. Some may have sensory issues or repetitive behaviors.

Under the law, students are to be educated in the least-restrictive environment. For some, that may mean mainstream classrooms, while others need a more specialized learning environment.

Reed said an "individualized education plan" is created for each special education student to review goals and objectives and determine how those will be met, and with what teaching methods, professionals and placement.

"If you are trying to hang a curtain rod using screws, you can hammer away at the screw all you want," Reed said. "It doesn't matter how good that hammer is, you need to use a screwdriver. The right tool for the right circumstance."

Wendy Anderson-Brachfeld, president of the Fairfield Special Education Parent-Teacher Association, said it would be wrong for her to speculate on the incident at Dwight School since she had no specific information, but said the PTA group is there to provide parents of special education students with support and resources. It does not, however, provide legal advice or individual advocacy.

"We do not address individual concerns," Anderson-Brachfeld said. "Our purpose is to address broader issues that impact all children with special needs in our community."

Begun in 1999, the Fairfield SEPTA grew out of a parent support group at the Early Childhood Center, with 44 members. Today, there are 212 members, including both parents and district staff members.

Asked what parents' level of satisfaction is with the education their children get in the Fairfield schools, Anderson-Brachfeld said, "As with any PTA, some members are unhappy with their children's experience and others feel very lucky to have their children in this system," but said she wouldn't want to answer for the membership as a whole.

"Our overall message and approach as a PTA is to work in a positive and collaborative manner with our school system and our community," she said.

VA: Ex-Regent official convicted of child sex abuse

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) - A former Regent University dean has been convicted of sexually abusing children.

Stephen McPherson, a former Regent University law school assistant dean, pleaded guilty Friday in Chesapeake Circuit Court to two counts of forcible sodomy and two counts of object sexual penetration. Sentencing is scheduled for May 22.

According to indictments, the charges stemmed from events between May 2000 and May 2002 that were reported to Chesapeake police in July 2007.
Information from: The Virginian-Pilot,

FL: Miami reform school loses contract after problems

Associated Press - January 24, 2009 9:44 AM ET

MIAMI (AP) - A Miami-Dade reform school for troubled teens could be forced to shut its 16-year-old main campus after state administrators pulled the school's contract.

Officials said Bay Point Schools' Kennedy campus lost the contract because of escapes, allegations of abuse and neglect and other chronic problems. But the state budget crunch also contributed to the decision. The state will save $2 million by closing the school.

According to a letter from the Department of Juvenile Justice, Bay Point Schools will lose state funding for the Kennedy campus on March 1. Youths at the 157-bed campus are already being transferred to similar programs or being released.

Two other Bay Point programs that house a total of 52 youths will keep their state funding.

Information from: The Miami Herald,

TX: Two boys accuse Dallas ISD instructor of molesting them at county jail

06:58 AM CST on Friday, January 23, 2009
By JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News

At least two boys awaiting trial as adults say a Dallas Independent School District instructor repeatedly molested them at the Dallas County Jail while he was supposed to be teaching them.

Luis Enrique de los Santos is charged with one count of sexual assault of a child, and authorities said additional charges will probably follow. He is on administrative leave and has been released on $100,000 bail. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and it was unclear whether he has an attorney.

Authorities said a handful of boys made molestation accusations against de los Santos, 36, who was arrested last week. It was unclear how many.

Defense attorney Bill Wirskye said Wednesday that he represents two teenage boys who say de los Santos molested them. One is charged with capital murder, and the other is charged with aggravated assault of a police officer.

The boys are not being identified because The Dallas Morning News does not name possible victims of sex crimes.

The Dallas County Sheriff's Department contracted with DISD to provide instruction at the jail. De los Santos had been assigned there for about a year, officials said. But since 2004, he has taught at detention facilities and taught kids too sick to attend school, the district said.

The Sheriff's Department and the school district are investigating whether other children taught by de los Santos may have been molested.

The Sheriff's Department said de los Santos passed its background checks, but that point was of little solace to Wirskye.

"If you are going to certify kids" as adults, he said, "I think you have an obligation to protect them."

Door open, officials say

De los Santos is accused of taking boys into a bathroom at the jail and performing oral sex on them, authorities said.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Kim Leach said Wednesday that students were taught one or two at a time in a multipurpose room and that the door was left open. She said a jail guard checked on them periodically.

"We place the same trust on this teacher coming into the jail to tutor students just like any educator who teaches students in a normal classroom setting," Leach said. "We try not to interfere with students' learning while they're in this setting."

In the case in which he faces charges, it is believed de los Santos was teaching two students and took the victim out of the room to another area.

"If there were two in the room, he would just occupy the other one with something and would go out to an area where there was a bathroom right outside," Leach said.

Wirskye said that de los Santos had unfettered access to the children and that he used both rewards and threats to abuse them.

"He sometimes promised to give them things he shouldn't," like hamburgers he brought to the jail, Wirskye said.

Then, he told the boys, "if you don't do what I want, I'm going to tell the authorities, and it would really hurt your case."

Through Wirskye, the family of one of the boys he represents declined to comment. The other family could not be reached.

Wirskye said the boys need sexual abuse counseling, which they are not getting at the jail.

"They're both kids. They don't really know how to deal with it," Wirskye said. "They're in a bad situation to begin with, being certified as adults. And now, they've been abused."

Policies re-evaluated

In a 2006 Dallas Morning News story about educating juvenile inmates, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman said that children in jail are entitled to continue their education and that it's the school district's responsibility to provide studies for them.

Leach said the Sheriff's Department is re-evaluating its policies on teacher-student supervision.

Wirskye, however, said the allegations show that the supervision and training by the school district and the Sheriff's Department is lacking. He said improvements are needed in those areas to better protect children held in adult jails.

"I'm just appalled," he said.

Staff writers Scott Goldstein and Tawnell Hobbs contributed to this report.

TX: Dallas County jail teacher faces more sexual abuse charges

07:04 AM CST on Friday, January 23, 2009
By DIANE JENNINGS / The Dallas Morning News

Authorities now say at least four juveniles are alleging that they were molested or assaulted by an instructor at the Dallas County jail.

Additional charges have been filed against Luis de los Santos, who had previously been charged with sexual assault of one of his students.

All of the alleged victims were juveniles waiting to stand trial as adults, said Kim Leach, spokeswoman for the Dallas County sheriff's office.

De los Santos, 36, was charged Thursday with another count of sexual assault of a child; one count of improper relationship between an educator and a student; and one count of indecency with a child.

Calvin Johnson, attorney for de los Santos, said his client "totally denies that he did anything inappropriate to any student" and suggested the alleged victims are "trying to use this situation to get released from incarceration."

The complainants are not being identified because The Dallas Morning News does not typically name possible victims of sex crimes.

The two original alleged victims each have been certified to stand trial as adults. Two others, ages 16 and 17, have already been tried and sent to the state prison system. Charges against the alleged victims range from robbery to murder, Leach said.

Johnson emphasized that the alleged victims "are not your typical juveniles or your typical inmates. They're young offenders who have committed crimes so heinous that they are certified adults."

Bill Wirskye, attorney for the two original complainants, said his clients have been charged with serious crimes, but they are not making up the charges in an effort to gain release from jail.

"When you talk to these kids up close, and you know more about the facts of this case, there's no doubt in my mind that this guy molested my two clients and probably molested more children in the Dallas County jail.

"If Dallas County is going to certify them to stand trial in an adult court, and put them in an adult jail, I think they have an obligation to protect them from sexual predators. And they have not protected them, so I don't believe it is a safe environment."

Wirskye said he did move to have bonds reduced for both of his clients. The judge reduced the bond for a client charged with assault of a police officer from $250,000 to $50,000, with the stipulation that he be monitored electronically. Bond reduction in a capital murder case is "still under consideration."

The client in the capital murder case has been awaiting trial for a year; the other client has been in jail since June 2008, Mr. Wirskye said.

When juveniles are in jail, local school districts are responsible for providing studies for them. De los Santos had been with the Dallas Independent School District and the jail since late 2007, Leach said.

KY: School And Church Sued Over Alleged Abuse

Last Update: 1/23 5:25 pm

A suit has been filed against officials with St. Joseph Elementary School in Crescent Springs and the Covington Diocese, accusing them of failing to stop abuse against a student.

The allegations in the suit are that a female student was bullied by other students last school year on school property and at school functions.

There are also allegations of a sexual assault.

A friend of the girl's family filed the suit in order to protect her identity.

Marianne Chevalier, the attorney for the friend says the girl's parents asked repeatedly to get the issues resolved and sued as a last resort.

Covington Bishop Roger Foyes and St. Joseph's principal Rebecca Brown are two of the eight people named in the suit.

A spokesperson for the Diocese told 9News once the suit is reviewed a statement will be released.

The suit is asking for $250,000. Chevalier says the family would use the money to to pay for educational and psychological services for the girl.

The girl no longer attends the school.

CA: Volleyball coach arrested in sex abuse case

A North County youth volleyball coach pleaded not guilty Friday to felony charges of having sex with three teenage girls, authorities said.
By CHRIS NICHOLS - Staff Writer Friday, January 23, 2009 6:33 PM PST ∞

Steven Antony, 39, of Carlsbad, faces between three and 10 years in prison if convicted of all 23 charges against him, said Deputy District Attorney Lisa Stark.

Bail for Antony was reduced from $1 million to $700,000 during the arraignment held at the Vista Courthouse. He remained in custody as of Friday afternoon, records show.

Antony was the director of the now-defunct Vista-based Sunstorm Volleyball Club. He is on paid leave from San Pasqual High School in Escondido, where he had served as the girls and boys volleyball coach and a special education teacher since 2004, said Steve Boyle, assistant superintendent for human resources at the Escondido Union High School District.

District officials placed Antony on leave after learning about a Sheriff's Department investigation of the teacher, Boyle said.

The charges allege Antony had unlawful sexual intercourse with one of the three minors and sexually molested all three while they were under the age of 15.

The alleged abuse dates to 2001, and two of the victims are now adults, sheriff's Sgt. Hank Turner said.

"It's definitely a pattern of behavior," he added.

None of the victims is associated with the high school or high school team, Turner said. Most of the suspected crimes took place in the Vista and Carlsbad areas, he said.

Boyle, the district administrator, said Antony had been coaching San Pasqual High's girls varsity volleyball team last fall until he was placed on leave.

Anyone with information about Antony or aware of any inappropriate relationships with minors is urged to call the Sheriff's Department's Child Abuse Unit at (858) 974-2310.

Contact staff writer Chris Nichols at (760) 740-5426 or

OH: Parmadale death prompts Governor Ted Strickland to seek policy on restraints

Parmadale death prompts state effort
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Rachel Dissell
Plain Dealer Reporter

Gov. Ted Strickland has called for a single statewide policy on the use of restraints like the one that contributed to the death of a 17-year-old at a center for troubled children last month.

John Martin, director of the Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, which banned the dangerous face-down restraint last year in agencies it licenses, will head the effort. Martin said he hopes for the prone-restraint ban to be adopted statewide.

Authorities have said the restraint, which holds a person with face to the floor, contributed to the death of Faith Finley at Parmadale Family Services in Parma, which is run by Catholic Charities.

Cuyahoga County Coroner Frank Miller said she suffocated while being held in the restraint. Her death has been ruled a homicide. Faith's death caught the governor's attention, Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said.

He said the governor had "grave concerns" about how the teen died.

In a memo to other state departments Friday, Martin called for the group that will craft policy recommendations to convene next week.

Ohio is among the states that have piecemeal regulation and tracking of the use of restraints.

Ohio has no central policy and leaves it up to individual agencies to set their own procedures.

There also is no one place that collects reports of injuries, deaths or other problems arising from the use of restraints.

Agencies that deal with children and the disabled in at least 14 other states have severely curtailed or banned some restraints - most commonly face-down restraints. The committee also will discuss collecting data on the use of restraints statewide.

Michael Rench, deputy director of community services for Martin's agency, said the committee's immediate business will be to move toward banning more-dangerous restraints by sharing his department's research on the prone restraint.

The committee would then work to craft further policy that moves away from relying on restraints in favor of other more positive intervention methods.

Agencies asked for input are: the Department of Youth Services, State Board of Education, Alcohol & Drug Addiction Services, the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Job and Family Services - the agency that licensed the Parmadale cottage where Faith died.

Bob Bowen, a trainer based in the Canton area who works with agencies that care for children, the mentally ill and people with disabilities, said the new policies need to, among other things, clearly define the term restraint and set limits for how long a person can be restrained.

"There are more regulations on how to humanely treat animals than people," said Bowen. The company no longer teaches any form of restraint that positions a person on the floor.

The Children's Health Act of 2000, passed after a series of articles in the Hartford Courant in Connecticut, chronicled 142 restraint-related deaths nationwide, limited the use of restraints and called on states to create policies about their use.

Bowen said that most have not complied and that there has been little enforcement of the act.

Thomas Hemmert, of the Ohio Legal Rights Service, an advocacy agency for the disabled, said his group was looking forward to the state banning the prone restraint and establishing standards that move toward other intervention.

Martin said that moving away from restraints altogether would take time.

"It's a kind of culture change and it's not something that occurs overnight," he said. "It's kind of our approach to get people to move forward voluntarily."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4121

IL: Two more lawsuits allege stripsearches at Chicago Public Schools

Incidents occurred at Perspectives Charter Calumet Middle School and Fenger Academy High School, complaints say
By Ted Gregory Tribune reporter
January 25, 2009

Two weeks after the Chicago Public Schools were hit with lawsuits alleging inappropriate searches of students, two more families have filed complaints of similar misconduct.

The lawsuits said that an 8th-grade girl at Perspectives Charter Calumet Middle School, 8131 S. May St., and a junior male student at Fenger Academy High School, 11220 S. Wallace St., were strip-searched last year.

"I was very furious," said the 16-year-old Fenger student. The boy said he was taken into a back room near the main office after he arrived late for school on Oct. 9 and was told that school officials suspected he had been selling drugs.

A school disciplinary officer told the student to pull down his pants and underpants, said the boy and his attorney, James Fennerty. The student was not asked to remove his T-shirt.

No drugs were found.

"I felt that they did it for no real reason," the student said Saturday. "I never had a record of selling drugs. I could see if I had gotten into trouble before, but I had never gotten into trouble."

The Perspectives search allegedly occurred Dec. 20 when the girl was among several pulled from a school assembly, told she was suspected of concealing a razor blade and taken into a bathroom, said Fennerty, who filed the complaints Friday. There, she was told to pull down her pants and take off the shirts over her bra, Fennerty said.

A uniformed woman—the girl is unsure whether she was a Chicago police officer or a school security guard—then grabbed and "jiggled" the girl's bra, Fennerty said. She was not asked to remove her underpants, he added. No razor blade was found.

The school district is "finishing up our investigation of the Perspectives allegations," Chicago Public Schools spokesman Michael Vaughn said Saturday. "The Fenger investigation is completed, and a decision on discipline is pending."

He declined to elaborate.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

OR: Oregon bills would put tight rein on problem teachers

by Bill Graves, The Oregonian
Saturday January 24, 2009, 4:37 PM

The Legislature is gearing up for swift action on six bills that would give the state more power to prevent and discipline sexual abuse by educators and other adults working in schools.

The bills emerged over the past year in response to a series by The Oregonian that showed how school districts sometimes strike deals to keep secret the sexual misconduct of teachers who agree to resign.

The proposed laws would bar administrators from concealing information about an educator's sexual misconduct; make it a felony crime for educators to engage in sex with students, even if they are 18 or older; and ban any educator disciplined for sexual misconduct from working directly with children in schools or colleges.

Legislative leaders in both parties predict broad support for the bills, but they expect resistance will emerge over details. Some expect opposition from the Oregon Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, though the union says it has taken no position on the bills.

The legislation "is a step in the right direction" but doesn't go far enough, said House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg. He said the state, for example, should require background checks for volunteers who have unsupervised contact with children.

The House Education Committee on Wednesday will consider House Bill 2062, which would ban secret deals that lead to the practice known as "passing the trash."

In some of the 47 confidential settlements obtained or confirmed by The Oregonian, district leaders promised cash settlements, health insurance and letters of recommendation to encourage problem teachers to resign. Between 2002 and 2007, nearly half of the teachers disciplined for sexual misconduct with a child left their school districts with such confidential agreements.

Secret deals
The bill designed to ban secret deals explicitly states that school leaders may not enter any contract or agreement that "has the effect of suppressing information relating to sexual misconduct."

It also bars districts from expunging any information about child abuse or sexual misconduct from "any documents in the personnel, investigative or other files of a current or past employee." The bill requires districts to do thorough background checks on anyone they hire, and it would allow parents of abused students to sue any school district where an abuser previously worked and previously engaged in sexual misconduct.

The bill probably will see some changes in the House Education Committee, said Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, the committee chairwoman.

"But the outcome will be that this legislation will act to keep children safe," she said, "and to make sure that school districts have the best possible information when they are making hires."

Missed warnings
The Oregonian series also described how school leaders repeatedly missed red flags or ignored complaints against educators who engaged in sexual misconduct, ranging from inappropriate touching to rape.

On average, Oregon disciplines 13 educators a year for molesting or having sexual relations with children, a tiny fraction of the 35,000 educators who teach, mentor and coach in Oregon schools. But in addition to causing lifelong damage to children, educators who sexually abuse children violate trust and harm relations between schools and communities.

The House committee also plans to discuss on Wednesday House Bill 2063, which would require employees of the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the agency that licenses and disciplines educators, to report any suspicion of child abuse as other school employees must do.

The Senate Education Committee also will hear debate over Senate Bill 45, which would bar any educator suspected of or disciplined for sexual misconduct or inappropriate relationships with children from working directly with children in schools, colleges or child care centers.

It also will look at Senate Bill 47, which would give the standards commission authority to revoke or suspend student teachers' right to apply for a license when they engage in misconduct.

A third bill, Senate Bill 46, would allow the Department of Education to require all new, nonlicensed hires in public and private schools to be fingerprinted, a rule that now applies only to those deemed to have direct, unsupervised contact with children.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has been assigned Senate Bill 48, which would make it a felony crime, rape in the third degree, for any school employee to engage in sex with a student, even if the student is 18 or older and above the state's age of consent. The committee has not yet scheduled that bill for a hearing.

"These are all fairly good pieces of legislation that probably in one way or another will be passed," said Senate Majority Leader Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin.

The Oregon Education Association is tracking the bills but so far has taken no position on them, said Becca Uherbelau, the union's spokeswoman.

"As we are looking at all of these, we have to balance the priority of protecting children with also ensuring the due process rights of educators (accused of sex abuse) and protecting them from false allegations," Uherbelau said.

Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, predicted the union "will push back on every accountability measure that protects kids," but still expects some of the bills to pass.

The Confederation of Oregon School Administrators supports bills that will protect children and provide clarity on expectations for districts and educators, said Chuck Bennett, lobbyist for the group.

The package of legislation is "all substantially headed in the right direction," said Vickie Chamberlain, executive director for the teacher standards commission.

Sen. Mark Hass, D-Raleigh Hills, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he wants the legislation to protect children while ensuring districts are not burdened with expensive new requirements:

"I don't know if you can ever do enough," he said. "It is hard to eliminate this kind of behavior in any walk of life."

--Bill Graves;

Announcement: Nominations Are Sought For Child Welfare Awards (Virginia)

If you know of someone who would be eligible for this award, please consider nominating them:

The Northern Virginia nonprofit group Stop Child Abuse Now is seeking nominations for the 2009 Allies in Prevention Awards.

The annual awards were created to recognize unsung heroes who go above and beyond to support and protect the community's children, the group said in a news release. Residents of the Prince William County area, Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington counties and Alexandria can be nominated.

A task force from the Allies in Prevention Coalition will select the winner. In six years, more than 30 people have been honored through the program. This year's winners will be announced during a luncheon in April.

Nomination forms must be turned in by Feb. 16. To submit a name, visit or call 703-820-9001.

Ohio school uses communication tools, behavior plans to help students with special needs; Uses Time Out Rooms

Note: This school seems to be doing a lot of the right things to help these children; it's their use of "deterents" to manage "inappropriate behaviors" - including the use of a padded time out room - that has us concerned...

By Erin Pustay
GateHouse News Service
Posted Jan 25, 2009 @ 05:22 PM

CANTON, Ohio — Sometimes, Samantha can’t find the right words to say. When she does, they sometimes don’t come out as clearly as she intends. Even then, the little girl is not deterred.

She smiles, waves her hands in the air with excitement and bounds around her classroom looking for toys and knick knacks to show off to guests.

Settling into her desk, she points to a small purple-colored computer touch-screen and beams. Turning her attention to the screen she concentrates hard, tapping her index finger on her chin before clicking her fingernail against the screen


“I want throw the toys,” the touch screen’s computerized voice says and Samantha giggles.

Throw the toys?

A couple of taps of the computer screen later and Samantha said what she was hoping to convey the first time.

“I want throw the toys golden retriever.”

Samantha claps her hands. Finally, she said exactly what she wanted: It’s nearing the end of the school day at Rebecca Stallman Southgate School in Canton, and Samantha wanted her friends to know that she can’t wait to get home to play fetch with her dog – a golden retriever.

The little touch screen box that allows Samantha to construct and clearly communicate her thoughts, wants and needs at the tap of a finger has opened up a whole new world to the little girl.

And she’s not alone.

According to Myrna Blosser, principal at Southgate School – a K-12 building that provides services to 165 individuals with mental retardation and developmental disabilities – one of the most frustrating things for some students is not being able to clearly communicate. Through devices such as the touch-screen computer or a picture book, students are able to focus more on learning and spend less time worrying about saying the right thing.

And, Blosser added, you’d be surprised the difference a little communication makes in the life of the MRDD children.

“Communication is huge for us,” Blosser said. “Communication opens up a big world for them. In fact, because of that, behavior issues are decreasing.”

Over the last five years as research and technology provided students with more tools for communication, Stallman has seen a decrease not only in the number of incidents in which students will act out, but also in the severity of those actions, Blosser said.

Lashing out

Students with mental retardation or developmental disabilities can sometimes struggle with behavior issues. For one reason or another, students can sometimes lash out. They will hit, kick, punch, spit, pull hair or even throw furniture. When a student acts out in a way that could bring harm to themselves, a teacher or another student, that behavior must be immediately dealt with.

The Stark County Board of MRDD provides more than 20 pages of behavior support procedure information for teachers, staff and employees. Yet, the course of action required for aggressive behavior issues varies from student to student at Southgate.

Every student at Southgate has a behavior support plan that is tailored specifically to their needs. The students' parents, teachers and support staff who work closely with the child will help to develop the plan.

“When we develop a behavior support plan, we take into consideration who the individual is, from their functioning age to their mental age to their medical conditions,” Southgate behavior specialist Norene McEowen said.

The behavior support plans encourage or deter behavior by using predetermined rewards or punishments. The goal, though, is to encourage positive behavior through rewards and reinforcements.

“We focus on the positives,” McEowen said. “We build relationships with the students and we get to know more about them – things they like and dislike.”

Each individual’s behavior support plan defines which incentives and deterrents can be used to encourage or correct behaviors. Incentives are based on the individual child’s likes while the deterrents are defined by the child’s specific needs.

In addition to defining which rewards and punishments can be used, the individual support plans detail what defines each degree of behavior and which actions call for which incentives and deterrents.

The plan, according to McEowen, is changed annually and re-evaluated monthly.

When a student’s behavior is aggressive enough – that is the student, by acting out, is putting their own or another’s safety in danger – they may need to be restrained or put in a time-out room.

Time-out rooms

In November, time-out rooms were brought to the national spotlight when a 13-year-old Georgia boy committed suicide shortly after being placed in a time-out room at school. The room, according to a CNN article published in December, was described as something “akin to a prison cell – a concrete room latched from the outside, its small window covered with a piece of paper.”

At Rebecca Stallman School, the time-out rooms are similar to, but not as archaic as, the rooms the CNN article describes. The rooms are not large, but not cramped. They have no windows and are padded so that students could not hurt themselves by flinging their weight into the walls. The rooms, though well lit, are not extremely bright so as to help calm the student.

There are no windows on the door, but there are a pair of peep holes so a staff person can monitor the student the entire time he or she is in there.

Additionally, the doors to the rooms are fitted with a device that will open the door if a staff person walks away from it. No student, Blosser emphasized, could be placed in one of the rooms and forgotten about.

Not all students are allowed to be placed in time-out. Only those who have individual support plans that allow for the deterrent to be used can be placed in time-out. Students can be in the room for no longer than one hour at a time and for no more than two hours within a 24-hour period.

Most often, McEowen said, the student will be in the room for 15 minute increments. Usually, that is all the time it takes for him or her to calm down.

Additionally, the rooms’ specifications and all of the procedures for monitoring students in time-out are in compliance with the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Department of MRDD and The Stark County Board of MRDD.

The purpose of the rooms, McEowen said, is to remove the student from an environment that may be fueling the behavioral outburst and give that student a chance to calm down by spending just a few minutes by him or herself.

That tactic, though, may not be effective for all students and that is why the individual behavior support plans are so important, Blosser said.

Last resort

The decision to place the student in time-out is done only when all other attempts to calm the child have failed.

“Time-out rooms,” Blosser said, “are only used as a last resort.” And, she added, only when absolutely necessary.

For example, a student who has problems following directions in a timely manner would not be placed in a time-out room. Instead, a staff person may encourage the student to follow directions in order to earn a reward, such as watching a DVD.

If, in a fit of rage, the student began throwing furniture in his or her classroom and several attempts to calm the child did not work, the child might be placed in the time-out room.

Because parents have a part in developing their child’s behavior support plan, they understand what the time-out room is, how it used and when it will be used. They are always in the loop because behavioral incidents – those good and bad – are documented along with the positive or negative consequence for each.

“We try to place an emphasis on the positive things instead of the punitive ones,” Blosser said. “When (we enact) the plan, we look to see what positive things we can do (to encourage behavior) first.”

For example, Stallman school has several timers. The timers, which look just like a clock, can be set for as long as 60 minutes. The total amount of time left on the timer can be better visualized by a red circle that disappears as the minutes tick by. The less red on the clock face, the closer a student is to being done with the task.

For some students, that visual reminder is enough to keep them on task because they know, when the red is gone, they get to do something they enjoy, such as eating lunch or watching a film. They can better understand the term “five minutes” or “10 minutes” and do not get overly anxious or frustrated because of the communication break down.


Blosser and her team have discovered that giving the children ways to more accurately and openly communicate wants and needs will drastically cut down on behavioral issues.

“Communication is the bridge we needed,” McEowen said.

According to Blosser, many of the aggressive behaviors the school staff saw may have been a direct result of frustrations boiling over. A student who was unable to convey that they needed a break, had to go to the bathroom, wanted a drink of water or was just feeling sad would become more and more frustrated as attempts to verbalize their thoughts or feelings were met with confusion.

Using devices like the touch screen computers or a picture book that allows the students to construct sentences brings down those communication divider walls and allows for the school day to run more smoothly.

“We want this to be a place where (students thrive),” Blosser said. “We think we have a really good niche with the support services we offer and the support staff we have.”

PA: Child Left on School Bus

Note: The school district says that bus drivers are not school employees, and takes the position it's the bus company's responsibility to deal with its employees. Seems like the district is trying to deny it has the ultimate responsibility for the safety of children in their district while those children are in the care of the district - including while those children are riding a school bus, contracted or otherwise...

Posted: Jan 23, 2009 07:30 PM
Last Updated: Jan 23, 2009 10:15 PM
By Kurt Aaron

A school bus driver in Northumberland County was suspended for one day after a child was left behind on a school bus.

Parents of the six-year-old boy said the incident happened Wednesday morning. They said their son was left alone for two hours on a bus used by the Mount Carmel Area School District.

"What's a six-year-old thinking, being left there all alone," said the boy's father, Ron Price. "My God, no one is there to stick up for him or help him or anything. It's just horrible. I just thank God nothing happened. Maybe the next kid won't be so lucky."

The boy apparently never got off the bus when it stopped at his school. He ended up three miles away where the buses are parked. Ron Price said his son was left alone for two hours before anyone noticed him.

"They said they seen a little boy wandering around in the parking lot," Price said. "He told me he learned how to open the door by watching the school bus driver do it. So, he got out and was roaming around."

What upset the child's mother and father so much is that there is a busy highway near where the buses are parked. There's also a stream right behind the buses.

Bob Heraty has been a school bus driver for 37 years. He said all the buses used in the Mount Carmel Area School District have a security feature for situations like this. When the bus is shut off, the driver has 40 seconds to walk to the back of the bus and press a special button or pull a special lever. This safety feature is intended to ensure that the driver walks to the back of the bus to make sure that no kids are left on board.

It's not clear why the driver on Wednesday did not notice the six-year-old boy left on the bus.

The school district says the bus drivers are not school employees, and it's the bus company's responsibility to deal with its employees.

TN: State issues restraint rules for special ed students

Law aims to keep disabled children safe
By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • January 18, 2009

Felicia Burk has homeschooled her 11-year-old son with autism since he had an outburst at school in September and ended up handcuffed and in the back of a police car.

His Murfreesboro school had called police to try to get him under control.

Burk said restraint only escalates and prolongs Heith's wild behavior. Also, it went against his individual education plan — drawn up for all special education students to spell out how to help them succeed in school.

Debates about restraint or even isolation to control behavioral explosions of special education students are not new in Tennessee, which had no laws or rules governing the use of restraint or isolation of special education students.

A new state law effective this month attempts to change that. The aim of the Special Education Isolation and Restraint Modernization and Behavioral Supports Act is to keep students safe from unreasonable, unsafe or unwarranted discipline.

And a national advocacy group is focusing attention on the issue, releasing a report last week that highlights a notorious Nashville-area case from 2007.

In Sumner County, children were being isolated in 4-by-3½-foot plywood boxes that were placed in 12 schools. A parent notified the state's Disability Law and Advocacy Center, which worked with the district to create what are known as calming areas to use when children get unruly. The boxes then were dismantled.

Advocates from the Disability Coalition on Education and the Arc of Tennessee have pushed for years to prohibit discipline methods that include sitting on students as restraint or putting them in a locked room.

The new rules allow districts to restrain or isolate under certain conditions. Among steps they prohibit are tie-down straps, use of locked or barricaded rooms, or any restraint that restricts air.

The State Board of Education will have a first reading of the proposed rules at its Jan. 30 meeting in Nashville.

Still, many advocates and parents would like to see even stronger state and federal rules. Burk wants restraint outlawed.

"Restraint is not changing the behavior, but is just interrupting a behavior at that time," said Burk, who also works in special education and is a behavioral analyst. "I understand restraint may be necessary in an emergency situation, but we need to call in every available resources to make sure it does not happen again."

Children in locked closet
The Disability Law and Advocacy Center, the state's protection and advocacy group, averages five or more calls a month from parents with complaints about special education programs inappropriately restraining or isolating their children.

"We've had cases where children were put in locked closets — either the door was locked or objects were used to block the door," said Sherry Wilds, attorney for the Disability Law and Advocacy Center. "We've run into situations where restraint and seclusion were used inappropriately and sometimes to a dangerous level."

It was a call from a parent that got the Advocacy Center involved in the 2007 Sumner County case.

Discovery of the plywood "seclusion boxes" created a firestorm. The district removed the boxes from the 12 schools and worked with the Advocacy Center to find acceptable alternatives.

"They changed to calming rooms with bean bag chairs and blankets," said Martha Lafferty, a managing attorney for the Advocacy Center.

Norma Dam, social education coordinator for Sumner, said special education teachers are trained three times every year on how to deal with restraint and isolation. They no longer use isolation rooms but sometimes remove the child to a quiet, divided area of the room.

"You try to remove them from whatever it is that is agitating them at the moment and given them time to cool down so they can re-enter the class," Dam said.

In another case from 2007, a teen died of strangulation after being restrained by a staff member at Chad Youth Enhancement Center near Clarksville.

School shouldn't hurt
The report that highlighted the Sumner case, titled "School is Not Supposed to Hurt," was released last week by a group called the National Disability Rights Network.

Across the nation, the report said, 32 states have rules or laws of some sort that spell out use of restraint and isolation. But advocates say policies are either unclear or inadequate.

Jean Hudson, an attorney of abuse and neglect for the Rights Network, said even the states that have laws sometimes allow dangerous practices such as restraint that forces the child to the ground, face down.

"This really is a national issue," Hudson said. "We need federal laws in place with at least bottom-line standards."

In Tennessee, advocates want the law to require that schools notify parents about any use of restraint. Currently, the law says parents have to be notified only if it is included in the student's education plan, said Holly Lu Conant Rees, chairman of the Disability Coalition on Education.

Conant Rees urges parents and advocates to attend the Board of Education meeting to voice their concerns about the issue and the proposed rules.

"We have to put a face with this issue and convey the urgency of getting it right because kids have died due to restraint," Conant Rees said.

Burk, the Murfreesboro parent, said she would like to see nonphysical behavioral intervention used to deal with special education students. She wants her son to return to school but worries how restraint will be used.

Attempts to reach representatives of Murfreesboro City Schools last week were unsuccessful.

"We have to teach children it is OK to be mad, OK to be angry, but it is not OK to hit, run away or destroy property," Burk said. "But we have to search for alternatives to restraint and isolation."

Contact Christina E. Sanchez at 615-726-5961 or