Monday, June 22, 2009

ACTION ALERT: GAO Needs Your OCR Experiences by Noon EST 6/23/09! (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Please read the following message from Georgeann Higgins of the GAO and forward any complaints against your state's OCR to GAO's FraudNET at

The call for information regarding Office of Civil Rights is erroneous. We suspect that the originator, though likely well intentioned, was misinformed when they reported that GAO is seeking letters from parents for a report on issues at OCR.

GAO is responsible for assisting the Congress in carrying out its oversight responsibilities pertaining to government programs, activities and functions. Generally, this involves examining the programs and operations of federal departments and agencies, rather than reviewing singular allegations of wrongdoing or poor performance in connection with specific matters. Allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, or mismanagement of federal funds can be reported to GAO’s FraudNET, accessed via internet at Persons who wish to report specific allegations of abuse or other crimes not reported to law enforcement, should contact the police authority in their area, the child protective service in their state, and/or seek legal advice.

Georgeann M. Higgins

Passing on with permission from a post on COPAA list serve


I just rec'd this from another list. If OCR dumped your complaint without doing a real investigation - didn't investigate at all or took the district's word for everything - or made a finding based on wrong statements or interpretations of Section 504, please read the message below and respond IMMEDIATELY. - Dee Alpert

Gov't Accountability Office is Seeking Information and Need Info ASAP....

I was just told that Georgianne Higgins of the Gov't Accountability Office, is still seeking information from parents who have gone to OCR and have gotten nowhere. She is supposed to be doing a report regarding the issues with OCR . She has asked that we get as many parents to write a letter to her attention by tomorrow as she is on a deadline.

So if you have had an issue with OCR office, that you filed a complaint and they closed the complaint without proper investigation or no finding, send a letter to Georgiane Higgins: email her at and in the subject line say this: 'PARENTS FROM THESE STATES' , make sure to put that in the subject line and she has to receive this information by Noon eastern time June 23. If you know of any other parent, they also need to send an email to

ACTION ALERT: Please Sign to Support IDEA Fairness Restoration Act (HR 2740)

Dear Advocates:
We are forwarding this request for support from The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act is being pursued to give parents back their rights to receive reimbursement for expert witness fees that are incurred from Due Process. Please follow the directions below to sign up a group and individually!
Thank you for your continued efforts!
Jennifer Searcy, Founder/Director of Public Policy & Affairs
From COPAA: Few parents can afford the high cost of paying technical, medical, and other expert witnesses themselves; by contrast, school districts can use taxpayer dollar to pay for experts or use staff on their payroll. In 2006, the Supreme Court decided that parents could not be reimbursed for expert witness fees in Arlington Central School District v. Murphy; the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act would overturn that decision. The Murphy decision has made the playing field incredibly unlevel and unjust for parents who are forced to pursue due process.
The effects of not being able to afford expert fees can be pernicious. In one case, a mother was forced to go to due process to implement the Independent Educational Evaluation recommendations for her child with severe dyslexia and a written expression disorder. She had to borrow $1,400 to pay the evaluator to testify, and for 2 days of cross-examination by the school district. The hearing officer ordered the scientifically-based reading instruction the child desperately needed. Before the Supreme Court’s Murphy decision, the mother could recover her expert fees; after Murphy, she would not. In other cases, solo practitioners report that they could not take cases pro bono because they had no way to afford the expert. The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act would go far to cure these problems.
Please consider signing COPAA's (Council Of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) petition in support of the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act (H.R. 2740), a bill that would permit parents who prevail in due process and litigation to recover their expert witness fees.
For individuals:
If you are a parent, attorney, advocate, family member, neighbor, friend, colleague, other professional, please sign COPAA's petition for individuals who support the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act (H.R. 2740). Let's tell Congress that we support this bill and want it passed! More and more parents find that they cannot pursue their children's rights because they cannot afford it. Please send this note to your friends, family, support groups, listservs, yahoo groups and others to ask them to sign the petition. There are 7.1 million children with disabilities and their rights are important. The link to SIGN COPAA's INDIVIDUAL PETITION IS HERE:
For groups or organizations:
COPAA is seeking organizations and informal groups who would like to sign on in support of the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act. Last year, over 100 organizations signed on. Current signatories include COPAA, National Disability Rights Networks, Disability Rights, DREDF, National Down Syndrome Society, Autism Society of America, Autism National Committee, Our Children Left Behind, and many state and local organizations and parent support groups. Your organization does not have to be incorporated. COPAA welcome sign-ons from disability groups; informal networks of attorneys and advocates and others; parent support groups; health, civil rights, and other related organizations or groups; nonprofit organizations, public interest law firms and organizations, associations, and any other supportive groups. To sign your organization or group on, the link is:
** NOTE: This is the link for organizations and groups ONLY.
For more info:
Note that this brochure may refer to H.R. 4188; that was last year's bill. This is being updated and the new bill number is H.R. 2740.

This information is also available in Spanish,

Lea aqui en Espanol: Murphy y los derechos de los padres para recuperar el costo de los expertos. Importante! es el nuevo nĂºmero H.R. 2740:

A copy of the bill will be posted to COPAA's website shortly. In the meantime, you can find the full bill at, and in the box that says Search Bill Summary and Status, type IDEA Fairness and press search. This will take you to H.R. 2740.
For more information, or if you have questions, please feel free to email COPAA

ACTION ALERT: Hearing Notice for Jonathan King Case

Forwarded message from an Advocate in Georgia:

If you are a parent or educator in Georgia, consider attending this hearing.

This is the case of a young man, Jonathan King, who committed suicide in a seclusion room in a North Atlanta school. This is of national importance because they had hearings on Seclusion Rooms in Washington on May 19, 2009.

King VS Pioneer
Georgia Court of Appeals July 7 10:00 am or immediately following first case

Address: 47 Trinity Ave, Suite 501 Atlanta, GA 30334

The Attorney is E. Wycliffe Orr

OrrBrown Johnson LLC
P.O. Box 2944
641 Spring Street, Gainesville, GA 30503
(770) 534-1980
(770) 536-5910

FL: Administrators from school involved in autism vote-out reassigned

By By Cara Fitzpatrick The Palm Beach Post

Originally published 02:19 p.m., June 20, 2009
Updated 02:54 p.m., June 20, 2009

PORT ST. LUCIE — The principal and assistant principal at Morningside Elementary, a school in which a teacher last year caused a national controversy by asking her students to vote on whether a boy could return to class, will be reassigned, school officials said Friday.

Principal Marcia Cully and Assistant Principal Patricia Gascoigne will start the coming school year at Fairlawn Elementary, said St. Lucie County School Superintendent Michael Lannon.
Fairlawn's principal, Susan Lyle, retired at the end of this year. Morningside's new staff has yet to be announced, but parents of Morningside students received an automated phone message this week informing them of the change, Lannon said.

Lannon said the changes were not related to the vote-out incident.

The reassignments come at the end of a difficult year for Morningside. A little more than a year ago, teacher Wendy Portillo asked her students to vote on whether then 5-year-old Alex Barton could remain in class after being sent to the office twice for misbehaving. The students voted 14-2 for him to leave.

The incident attracted an onslaught of attention, drawing email and phone calls from around the world. School officials said they were threatened, as did the Portillo and Barton families.

That Alex was later diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, and had been under evaluation for it at the time only added to the controversy.

Melissa Barton, who removed her son from public school following the incident, said she was not surprised that the administrators were moved from the school.

Barton is pursuing a lawsuit against the district.

"The fault lies in a lot of different directions in this case," she said.

Portillo was suspended without pay, but will be allowed to return to the classroom in November. Her position, though tenured, will depend on vacancies within the district.

Lannon had recommended a stiffer punishment, which would have moved Portillo back to an annual contract. That recommendation, though upheld at appeal by an administrative judge, was later rejected by the school board, which decided to allow her to keep her continuing contract.

CT: Special needs students not subject to disciplinary actions, kudos to CT principal

By Kindall Nelson
Chicago Special Needs Examiner
Posted on June 22, 2009

An 8-year-old Connecticut student with special needs attempted to reach for a teacher's purse in school one day. When he was prevented from touching it, he became angry and physically assaulted the teacher with punches, kicks, and scratches. A complaint has now been filed against the principal of that school for this incident. The teacher, Melissa Vargas, says that the school's policy for physically assaulting a teacher is a 5-10 day suspension, and calling the child's parents as well as the police. She is upset that, in this case, nothing was done to the student.

What Miss Vargas has failed to realize is that, according to IDEA, this student can not be punished the same way other students are punished. In fact, punishment would be completely inappropriate in this case. Kudos to Principal Brown for understanding this.

According to IDEA 2004, if a student has a behavior that impedes his learning or the learning of others, the school must discuss this at an IEP meeting and put a behavioral plan into place. This plan must use positive behavioral supports and other strategies to address that behavior. It is only after all plans and strategies have been exhausted that suspensions and other disciplinary actions should be considered, and only if there is a clear goal in mind behind those actions. For example, a suspension in order to find a more appropriate educational placement for the child.

Another thing to consider is the fact that IDEA also says that a teacher who has a child in their class who has special needs, must be offered “high-quality professional development” as to the correct use of positive behavioral interventions and supports. This could include courses on de-escalation as well as information on sensory breaks or positive reinforcement.

Without knowing the child in question, it is impossible to determine the correct course of positive behavioral support that he needed. However, arrest and/or suspension are not the answer since, in most cases, a child can not be punished or disciplined in the traditional sense for a behavior that is the result of his/her special need

To read more about this story, see Walsh pricipal defends his approach to discipline is also a wealth of information for parents of children with behavior disorders. Find up-to-date information on: What You Need to Know About IDEA 2004: IEPs for Children with Behavior Problems

VA: Under the Desk

How Chesterfield and school systems across the country are skirting federal laws to avoid educating the disabled.
by Chris Dovi
Posted On: 6/16/2009

After fighting the Chesterfield County Public Schools to restore her child’s basic civil rights, an out-of-court settlement should have meant a happy ending for Anna Long.

Instead, it opened another sad chapter for Long’s daughter, Adriana, a rising sixth-grader with profound physical disabilities at Swift Creek Middle School. The school system, Long says, is still working hard to deny her daughter an education.

“It’s starting all over again,” says Long, shuffling through boxes of documents collected during the yearlong legal battle. “We’re not going to let it happen again.”

Indeed, Adriana’s past troubles at the school took on epic proportions. A child with severe disabilities — her many conditions include brittle bones and skeletal deformities that restrict range of motion and leave many of her vital organs unprotected — Adriana suffered various medical setbacks and underwent multiple surgeries while attending Swift Creek Middle.

On at least one occasion, Long has documentation of an attempt by school officials to rediagnose or upgrade Adriana’s condition to justify decreased services.

While the case was being litigated, court records show, the school district attempted to prove Adriana’s condition was not as dire as claimed — in one instance, forcing her to perform sit-ups — resulting in visits to the emergency room.

The settlement was supposed to allow Adriana to go back to school with the assistance she needed. Now, the district has backed away from what it promised to Adriana, Long says, and she can’t afford further legal remedies.

The Longs aren’t alone. Adriana’s case offers a glimpse into a nationwide pattern of intimidation of parents and denial of rights by school districts, which is beginning to catch the attention of federal lawmakers.

In Long’s case, it starts with a simple question of semantics: What is an aide?

Long won’t talk about her out-of-court settlement with the school system but says her daughter received a full-time, one-on-one aide to assist with Adriana’s profound physical disabilities. But now the school district is balking at providing an aide to assist Adriana, and instead is only offering to provide an “adult assistant” — in other words, it won’t promise a full-time aide with training to deal with children with special needs.

“They’re trying to provide her with less than they provided before,” says Judith Greenberg, founder of Maryland-based School Finders and a national educational advocate and expert witness who represents parents all over the country. “I see it as an attempt to slowly erode what they agreed to in the settlement.”

The Chesterfield schools avoidance of written promises to Adriana is well documented. In an Oct. 20, 2006, e-mail obtained by Long’s lawyers during the suit, Carolyn Urban, the county’s then-assistant director of special education, tells a Clover Hill Elementary administrator that “you should would [sic] refrain from putting anything in writing.”

And just eight days before Urban’s e-mail, Mike Asip, the county’s director of exceptional education, warns administrators that the Long family will seek guarantees of a one-to-one aide “which we must refuse.”

Adriana’s case is not isolated.

Last month, Priscilla Greene attended what she vowed would be her final Chesterfield County School Board meeting to give its members a piece of her mind.

Green’s battles against Chesterfield began not over denial of services, but instead over what she believes is another attempt to deny rights to her child, who suffers from Down syndrome.

Coleman, an 11-year-old with no history of violence, repeatedly has been physically restrained by Chesterfield teachers and administrators. In one instance, Greene witnessed the restraint — a teacher she was talking with in a hallway suddenly dropped Coleman into a restraint hold before her disbelieving eyes. But there are other instances —more than a dozen instances of restraint and 20 or more instances of seclusion — she’s uncovered only by obtaining internal memos and documents between school staff and administrators about her child.

“They think they’re untouchable,” says Greene, whose son now attends a private school for special-needs children, which the county is paying for, at a cost of nearly $6,500 a month.

“This is so devastating,” she says, labeling the school district’s treatment of disabled children cruel, its policy and actions regarding restraint potentially illegal, and the fact that those regulations seem to be applied only to special-needs children a violation of civil rights.

“To me, this is discrimination,” she says. “You can’t hold a [discipline] policy for a certain body and not for the rest.”

It would seem others may agree.

Last month, Congress convened investigatory hearings on use of seclusion and physical restraint on children, prompted by a number of nationally publicized pupil deaths and injuries. The investigation may soon expand to examine a disturbing trend allegedly uncovered during the hearings: willful retaliation by school districts against parents of children who speak out or advocate for their children.

Preparing for the hearings, the Virginia Department of Education in April completed a report on localities’ use of seclusion and restraint on special-education pupils. Among concerns were that many school districts lacked any policies for when to use restraints. Chesterfield was among the few that did have such policies, but what Greene discovered in defending her son is that the policy was developed by the state specifically for students with emotional disabilities, and that it’s since been applied generally to all disabled students.

The state report found that many school districts avoid adopting policy as a matter of legal self-preservation.

“Several school divisions said their school board attorney or the [Virginia School Board Association] advised them not to establish a policy, regulation, etc. … on this issue,” the state report says, giving the reason from five school board lawyers as concern that adopting such policy “is giving the potential plaintiff a standard against which the [school system’s] action can be judged.”

In other words, “preserving the school division’s immunity defense is critical,” the state reports.

That self-preservationist technique — used both in creating policy as well as in agreeing to provide services to pupils such as Adriana — is endemic to Chesterfield and to school districts statewide, says Kandise Lucas, a special education advocate for parents in Chesterfield and Henrico counties.

The reason, she says, is simple: “The bottom line is about the bottom line. If they can avoid paying out money for special-education needs, they’re going to avoid doing it.”

And there’s very real financial incentive to such avoidance. The federal government provides additional subsidies for pupils classified as having special needs, but that money rarely is enough to cover expenses associated with the services such children require.

“The biggest issue we have is [school officials] are being told don’t put it in writing,” Lucas says. “The school districts are trying to do just enough to get by, but in the process they’re breaking the law.”

Lucas, an advocate for scores of Chesterfield and Henrico parents, says the tide will turn against districts that systematically seek to limit services.

“Passing the [federal special education] laws was the first step, but the hardest part is getting the districts to enforce the laws,” she says. The current congressional hearings, she says, could eventually lead to a broader civil rights investigation.

One reason there’s already not outcry over civil rights issues, Lucas says, is money. Civil rights organizations, she says, are “nervous about taking on [school] districts and the financial obligation.”

This nervousness gives districts the upper hand, she says. In Priscilla Greene’s and Anna Long’s cases and in others, it’s left parents fighting alone for their own children’s rights rather than shoulder-to-shoulder for reform.

“They bully us and tell us don’t say anything and we’ll give your child tutoring or give her civil rights back,” Long says. “And they know that most of us are scared and will be quiet.”

FL: Law Firm News - Settlement for Special Needs Student Abused at Oak Hammond K-8 School

Forwarded message from advocate Anna Moore - (Special Note: Congratulations, Anna!!!)

"This is about my son "Isaiah" this one battle is over for us, let's keep fighting together to win this war, our children are caught up in."
- Anna Moore

Balkan & Patterson LLP Secures Settlement for Family of Special Needs Student Abused and Violently Restrained by Behavioral Analyst at Oak Hammock K-8 School

June 19, 2009

Adam Balkan, Balkan & Patterson, LLP
(561) 750-9191
Chrissy Lane, BARD Marketing/PR
(610) 723-1738


Boca Raton, FL – The personal injury law firm of Balkan & Patterson settled a lawsuit this week against the St. Lucie School Board on behalf of a family whose child was abused by his behavioral analyst at Oak Hammock K-8 school. The amount of the settlement is confidential.

The child, now age 10, was a special needs student and required additional help in school. He was working with a behavioral analyst when he was dragged down a hallway in the school, violently restrained and roughly handled. This treatment caused him to suffer physical injuries. The abuses he received required medical treatment, and his health care providers predict that he will require medical treatment in the future for the long term emotional and mental effects. In addition, the behavioral analyst had a questionable record that was not fully investigated by the school before he was hired.

“Our client trusted that the teachers and staff of Oak Hammock K-8 school would instruct her child, providing him with a safe and healthy institution for learning,” said attorney Adam Balkan. “However, this was not the case, and a helpless child was severely mistreated by the people who were entrusted to help him. On top of that, the school board has a duty to fully investigate the backgrounds of their employees to ensure they are qualified to work with special needs students.”

“Thankfully the school board settled the case without having to put the family through the ordeals of a trial, but it does not excuse the treatment the boy received. It is all too common that we see these types of cases, and it is absolutely inexcusable that public schools are treating their students – especially special needs students – in this manner,” Mr. Balkan added.

Rafael Katz from the Katz Law Group acted as co-counsel on this case. Adam M. Balkan is a partner in the law firm of Balkan & Patterson, LLP. The firm was founded in 2006 and is headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, at 601 S. Federal Highway, Suite 302. Mr. Balkan can be contacted at (561) 750-9191.Additional information about Balkan & Patterson, LLP may be obtained from the firm's website at

NC: Giving parents a say in corporal punishment

Published: Sat, Jun. 20, 2009 02:00AMModified Fri, Jun. 19, 2009 05:28PM

RALEIGH -- North Carolina remains one of the few places where a student can be beaten with a paddle by school personnel without parental permission. Those personnel have statutory immunity if they inadvertently injure a student during such beatings.

Last month the state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to affirm the rights of parents to participate in the school discipline process. Under House Bill 442, parents would be given an opportunity to say that their children cannot be beaten at school and that other forms of discipline should be used.

On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on HB 442. Unbelievably, the vote is expected to be very close, and there is a good chance that our senators will deny parents the right to protect their children from being beaten by school personnel.

Some senators express what they term "fond memories" of being physically punished at school, while others feel that school discipline should be the sole province of school administrators with no room for parental involvement.
It should be made clear that this bill is not about corporal punishment; it is about parental involvement. In fact, 60 of the state's 115 local school boards have banned corporal punishment. And at least another dozen already use parental permission procedures that are included in the bill. The bill simply seeks to extend these parental permission procedures statewide.

Students cannot participate in sports or band without parental consent. They cannot go on school field trips without parental consent. They cannot receive so much as a Tylenol without parental consent. Yet they can be beaten without parental consent. This is irony, if not tyranny.

It should also be made clear that no groups object to the bill. In fact, the N.C. Association of Educators (representing teachers) and the N.C. Parent-Teachers Association strongly support the bill. The NAACP, the N.C. Pediatric Society and a host of other professional and advocacy organizations are in strong support as well.
In a democratic society, we expect our legislators to represent the wishes of their constituencies. So if teachers support the bill, if parents support the bill, if virtually all child-serving agencies support the bill, and if state and local school boards have reviewed the bill and do not object, who do our senators think they are representing by even considering a vote against the bill?

If HB 442 does not pass, somewhere in North Carolina next September a 45-pound first-grade girl could be beaten with a paddle by a 200-pound male school administrator without parental consent. It is time to take North Carolina's name off the list of places where this can happen. Please contact your state senator as soon as possible and ask that she/he support HB 442.

LA: Efforts to restrict paddling in school fails

A bid to put new restrictions on corporal punishment in public schools failed in the state House this evening.

State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, tried to require that school nurses conduct a medical examination of students who are subject to corporal punishment, which is usually paddling.

Nurses would then be required to file a written report on the student's condition that would go to the superintendent of the school district, the principal of the school and the student's parents.

"All we have to do is let the nurse check that child," Norton told the House. "All we are doing it protecting our children."

The House rejected the amendment 26-66.

State Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, criticized the measure.

"It sounds good but I don't know if it is very practical," Hoffman said. Hoffman said most schools face a shortage of nurses.

Norton tried to attach her amendment to a school discipline measure, Senate Bill 223. The House passed the bill 101-0.

On Tuesday the House Education Committee rejected a bill by Norton that would ban corporal punishment in public schools.

MI: Victory for Autistic Children in Michigan

NOTE: While ABA may not be appropriate for all children on the spectrum, those parents who opt to use it for their children now may be reimbursed for their expenses...

Blue Cross ordered to pay for proven therapy

By Jon Hood

June 21, 2009

Blue Cross has settled a lawsuit brought by parents of children with autism, reimbursing them for the costs of therapy they had to pay out of their own pockets.

The suit, filed in Detroit, alleged that Blue Cross refused to pay for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy for autistic children on the grounds that it was “experimental.”

Blue Cross policies exclude experimental therapies for a variety of conditions. The plaintiffs in the current suit, Johns v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, argued that characterizing ABA as experimental was arbitrary, capricious, and possibly even illegal.

John Conway and Gerard Mantese, attorneys for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that ABA is "supported by science and is not 'experimental.'" The therapy is used to help autistic children develop the deficient verbal and social skills that are hallmarks of the disease.

ABA is based on the classical conditioning concepts of positive and negative reinforcement — rewarding good behavior and discouraging unhealthy actions. ABA therapy has been recognized and respected for decades, and is implemented under the supervision of psychologists and other medical professionals. Classical conditioning itself stretches back to the early 1900's, when Ivan Pavlov developed his now-famous experiment involving "conditioned reflexes." By pairing the ringing of a bell with the scent of raw meat, Pavlov eventually trained — or conditioned — dogs to drool at the sound of the bell alone.

Indeed, as the plaintiffs pointed out, Blue Cross acknowledged in a 2005 draft policy that ABA is anything but controversial. That draft explicitly noted that ABA is "currently the most thoroughly researched treatment modality for early intervention approaches to autism spectrum disorders and is the standard of care recommended by" a number of professional organizations, including the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.

Additionally, as the draft pointed out, the earlier the treatment is applied, the better the child's prognosis for a normal and productive life.

During a court deposition, Dr. Calmaze Dudley, Blue Cross's medical director, said that he would “probably” employ the therapy if he had a child with autism. These findings call into question why Blue Cross refused to pay for the treatment in the first place. Indeed, the settlement came shortly after the court ordered Blue Cross to produce these documents.

As with many developmental and psychological disorders, autism isn't covered by most medical insurance plans. Depending on the severity of a child's autism — which varies greatly from case to case — intensive speech and developmental therapy can cost nearly $100,000 per year. In Michigan, where the instant suit was filed, the state House has introduced two bills mandating coverage for diagnosis and treatment of autism-spectrum disorders, including Asperger Syndrome and Rett Syndrome. HB 4776 applies specifically to plans issued by Blue Cross; HB 4183 applies to all other insurance companies.

In the settlement, Blue Cross agreed to reimburse the families of more than 100 autistic children who paid for their own behavioral therapy over the past six years. Included in the settlement are families covered by a Blue Cross policy who never actually submitted a claim.

MD: Students get a chance to pie the principal

Faculty enjoys the whipped cream

June 21, 2009

Baltimore Sun,0,5922667.story

Cynthia Dillon and Shiney Ann John stood outside Oakland Mills Middle School splattered with whipped cream and couldn't have been happier.

The two administrators agreed that a pie-throwing contest - where up to 20 lucky students in each grade level got an opportunity to throw whipped cream pies - was the perfect way to end the school year.

Students were picked during a raffle where they traded in tickets they had accumulated for good behavior throughout the year for a chance at a slew of prizes, including the pie-throwing contest. In a last-minute surprise, students chosen during the raffle were able to pick one friend to also throw a pie.

The activity was a reward connected to the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program. To lower disciplinary problems, PBIS encourages adults to be positive role models and offers constant reminders of proper behavior through posters and other materials placed throughout the school. Students who exhibit good behavior and follow the rules are rewarded with incentives such as the raffle at Oakland Mills Middle.

Proponents say PBIS can have a measurable impact on a school. Suspension rates at some PBIS schools can drop anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent within two years of implementing the program, according to experts.

"It has established a consistent standard of conduct," said John, the school's assistant principal. "Behaviors are not a mystery. They are clear with what happens when they do not follow the rules."

Oakland Mills Middle has had a decrease in office referrals, physical altercations and suspensions since implementing the program three years ago, according to Dillon, the school's principal. The school has also seen an increase in attendance, and academic performance since then, she said.

PBIS was started 20 years ago for special-education students by professors at the University of Oregon and was expanded in 1999 to include all students. Maryland has been on board with PBIS since the program was expanded to mainstream classrooms, according to George Sugai, who helped craft PBIS at the University of Oregon. He is now a professor at the University of Connecticut and co-director of the Center of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

Since joining, Oakland Mills Middle has been recognized each year with the highest honor for PBIS schools - the golden ribbon. The accomplishment is much more impressive because of the age of the students, Dillon said.

"Middle school kids try and flex their muscles and stand up for what they think is just," she said. "They do a really good job following the rules here."

John agreed. "They are the best kids. I don't mind if they throw pies at me."

At times it wasn't apparent who enjoyed the activity more - the students or the staff.

Amanda Brewer, a health teacher, was pumped when it was her turn to face the firing squad.

"All right! Bring it on," she said as she put on her hair net and goggles. "Sweet! I get to preserve my eye makeup."

After she was splattered by several students, she exclaimed: "That was really fun!"

Tre Holly, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, leapt over a bench on his way to line up for a chance to launch a pie at a staff member. He lucked out and was paired with John. He eyed his target - who was making faces to egg him on - and launched the projectile in the air, making contact with the side of the administrator's head. His classmates cheered wildly as a huge grin spread across his face.

"It felt real good to get the stress out since I can't do it in class," Tre said.

Lawren Henry, a 15-year-old eighth-grader, ignored the line that dictated where students could throw the pies, and walked right up to John to smash a pie in her face. His classmates were ecstatic as some students ran to capture the image with their digital cameras. John chased him down and eventually gave him a big hug, which in turn left a whipped cream imprint on his shirt. Both laughed heartily.

"I had to do it," Lawren later said. "She's the best principal ever. I had a fun time. I got to throw a pie in the face of a principal. Who wouldn't want to do that?"

The eighth-graders were the first group of students to leave Oakland Mills Middle with three years of PBIS training, which has left a sentimental feeling with John.

"They are dear to us," John said, shortly after hugging Henry. "They can cross the line."

Dillon said she was extremely pleased with the inaugural event.

"It was a hoot," she said. "You couldn't do this with kids who don't enjoy school. It was fun-spirited and a fun way to share in the end of the school year."

NY: 700 NYC teachers are paid to do nothing

NOTE: Teachers are getting paid to sit in a secluded "rubber room?"

From the Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) — Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that's what they want to do.

Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its "rubber rooms" — off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues — pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.

"You just basically sit there for eight hours," said Orlando Ramos, who spent seven months in a rubber room, officially known as a temporary reassignment center, in 2004-05. "I saw several near-fights. `This is my seat.' `I've been sitting here for six months.' That sort of thing."

Ramos was an assistant principal in East Harlem when he was accused of lying at a hearing on whether to suspend a student. Ramos denied the allegation but quit before his case was resolved and took a job in California.

Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more, the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the taxpayers $65 million a year. The department blames union rules.

"It is extremely difficult to fire a tenured teacher because of the protections afforded to them in their contract," spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

City officials said that they make teachers report to a rubber room instead of sending they home because the union contract requires that they be allowed to continue in their jobs in some fashion while their cases are being heard. The contract does not permit them to be given other work.

Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, said the union and the Department of Education reached an agreement last year to try to reduce the amount of time educators spend in reassignment centers, but progress has been slow.

"No one wants teachers who don't belong in the classroom. However, we cannot neglect the teachers' rights to due process," Davis said. The union represents more than 228,000 employees, including nearly 90,000 teachers.

Many teachers say they are being punished because they ran afoul of a vindictive boss or because they blew the whistle when somebody fudged test scores.

"The principal wants you out, you're gone," said Michael Thomas, a high school math teacher who has been in a reassignment center for 14 months after accusing an assistant principal of tinkering with test results.

City education officials deny teachers are unfairly targeted but say there has been an effort under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to get incompetents out of the classroom. "There's been a push to report anything that you see wrong," Forte said.

Some other school systems likewise pay teachers to do nothing.

The Los Angeles district, the nation's second-largest school system with 620,000 students, behind New York's 1.1 million, said it has 178 teachers and other staff members who are being "housed" while they wait for misconduct charges to be resolved.

Similarly, Mimi Shapiro, who is now retired, said she was assigned to sit in what Philadelphia calls a "cluster office." "They just sit you in a room in a hard chair," she said, "and you just sit."

Teacher advocates say New York's rubber rooms are more extensive than anything that exists elsewhere.

Teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings around the nation typically are sent home, with or without pay, Karen Horwitz, a former Chicago-area teacher who founded the National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse. Some districts find non-classroom work — office duties, for example — for teachers accused of misconduct.

New York City's reassignment centers have existed since the late 1990s, Forte said. But the number of employees assigned to them has ballooned since Bloomberg won more control over the schools in 2002. Most of those sent to rubber rooms are teachers; others are assistant principals, social workers, psychologists and secretaries.

Once their hearings are over, they are either sent back to the classroom or fired. But because their cases are heard by 23 arbitrators who work only five days a month, stints of two or three years in a rubber room are common, and some teachers have been there for five or six.

The nickname refers to the padded cells of old insane asylums. Some teachers say that is fitting, since some of the inhabitants are unstable and don't belong in the classroom. They add that being in a rubber room itself is bad for your mental health.

"Most people in that room are depressed," said Jennifer Saunders, a high school teacher who was in a reassignment center from 2005 to 2008. Saunders said she was charged with petty infractions in an effort to get rid of her: "I was charged with having a student sit in my class with a hat on, singing."

The rubber rooms are monitored, some more strictly than others, teachers said.

"There was a bar across the street," Saunders said. "Teachers would sneak out and hang out there for hours."

Judith Cohen, an art teacher who has been in a rubber room near Madison Square Garden for three years, said she passes the time by painting watercolors of her fellow detainees.

"The day just seemed to crawl by until I started painting," Cohen said, adding that others read, play dominoes or sleep. Cohen said she was charged with using abusive language when a girl cut her with scissors.

Some sell real estate, earn graduate degrees or teach each other yoga and tai chi.

David Suker, who has been in a Brooklyn reassignment center for three months, said he has used the time to plan summer trips to Alaska, Cape Cod and Costa Rica. Suker said he was falsely accused of throwing a girl's test sign-up form in the garbage during an argument.

"It's sort of peaceful knowing that you're going to work to do nothing," he said.

Philip Nobile is a journalist who has written for New York Magazine and the Village Voice and is known for his scathing criticism of public figures. A teacher at Brooklyn's Cobble Hill School of American Studies, Nobile was assigned to a rubber room in 2007, "supposedly for pushing a boy while I was breaking up a fight." He contends the school system is retaliating against him for exposing wrongdoing.

He is spending his time working on his case and writing magazine articles and a novel.

"This is what happens to political prisoners throughout history," he said, alluding to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "They put us in prison and we write our `Letter From the Birmingham Jail.'"

D.C.: Court says public must pay for private special ed

Note: Good news from the Supreme Court!


Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has made it easier for parents of special education students to be reimbursed for the cost of private schooling for their children.

The court ruled 6-3 Monday in favor of a teenage boy from Oregon whose parents sought to force their local public school district to pay the $5,200 a month it cost to send their son to a private school.

Federal law calls for school districts to reimburse students or their families for education costs when public schools do not have services that address or fulfill the students' needs. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the nation's special education students are entitled to a "free and appropriate public education."

Schools have argued that parents of special education students should have given public special education programs a chance before seeking reimbursement for private school tuition. But advocacy groups and parents of some special education students contend that forcing them to try public schools first could force children, especially poor ones, to spend time in an undesirable situation before getting the help they need.

In the case before the Supreme Court, the family of a teenage Oregon boy diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder sued the school district, saying the school did not properly address the student's learning problems. The family is seeking reimbursement for the student's tuition, which cost $5,200-a-month. The family paid a total of $65,000 in private tuition.

In its appeal, the Forest Grove School District said students should be forced to at least give public special education programs a try before seeking reimbursement for private tuition.

Justice John Paul Stevens said in his majority opinion that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires a school district to pay for private special ed services if the public school doesn't have appropriate services.

"We conclude that IDEA authorizes reimbursement for the cost of special education services when a school district fails to provide a FAPE and the private-school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school," Stevens said.

AL: Study shows harm of restraint

State has no rules limiting schools’ use of restraint, seclusion

By Jamon Smith Staff Writer
Published: Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 10:43 p.m.

B.A., a second-grader at an elementary school in Alabama, has autism and doesn’t know how to verbally communicate.

While in class one day, B.A. began to scream and wouldn’t stop when her teacher asked her to be quiet.

B.A.’s teacher asked a classroom aide to restrain her. The aide took B.A. to a bathroom, tied her to a chair and left her there unsupervised.

When the teaching aide returned to the bathroom sometime later to check on B.A., she had flipped the chair over, was hanging by the restraints and had urinated on herself.

A report released last week by the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program relates this story about B.A. as an example of the harm that can result from the use of seclusion and restraint in public schools.

Alabama is one of 19 states that do not have laws regulating the use of seclusion and restraint in public schools, according to the report by ADAP, a federally mandated program that seeks to protect and expand the rights of Alabamians with disabilities.

The report claims that seclusion and restraint are used disproportionately on children with disabilities. It cites more than a dozen incidents of restraint and seclusion being used on students with disabilities in Alabama schools in the past three years and calls for a ban on the use of seclusion, chemical restraints, mechanical restraints and prone restraints.

“Our goal, among others, is to see reform in the use of restraint,” said Nancy Anderson, a staff attorney for ADAP. “Some forms of restraint, like prone restraints — where a person is forced face-downward onto a surface, should be outright banned. That’s particularly dangerous because that person can asphyxiate.

“We would also like to require that record-keeping be kept, so if there’s a lot of restraint going on in a school, we can find out what’s going on,” she said. “What gets accounted for gets paid attention to.”

At a congressional hearing on May 19, parents and education officials from around the country shared reports about hundreds of students who have been abused through the use of seclusion and restraint in public schools. After the hearing, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked state school chiefs to address the issue.

Anderson said the Alabama Department of Education has already begun considering how to enhance the safety and behavioral needs of students when it comes to seclusion and restraint practices.

“Prevention is key,” Anderson said. “Train teachers and staff on how to defuse the situation before it escalates to a place where a teacher feels like restraint must be used.”

Like most school systems in the state, the Tuscaloosa city and county school systems don’t have policies on how to use seclusion and restraint. However, each system strongly encourages prevention and the use of trained personnel to handle a situation in which a student gets out of control.

“We do not have a policy on restraint; however, in every school there is a school plan, which we tell personnel what to do in certain situations,” said Ruth Graves, supervisor of special education for the Tuscaloosa County School System.

“We handle each incident case-by-case,” she said, adding that if they know certain students are prone to behaviors that could lead to them or others being hurt, they put measures in place to deal with the situation.

“We also train staff on how to handle those situations in extreme circumstances,” she said.

Graves said teachers and other personnel at schools throughout the county are trained on how to use de-escalation methods, which are the first steps they use to deal with out of control students.

“We start with de-escalation procedures, then move to a more restricted restraint if needed, which may include physical restraint,” Graves said. “We totally frown on [physical restraint] unless it’s by trained personnel. So we call a trained personnel in to handle it.”

Debbie Anderson, the director of special education for the Tuscaloosa City School System, said personnel in the city schools use a similar approach, but they base their methods on an established behavior correction model.

“The Tuscaloosa City School System is the largest system in the state to implement ‘Positive Behavior Support Interventions’ for all students,” Debbie Anderson said in a written statement. “If a student is in need of assistance, the assistance is provided by a staff member who has been trained by a certified interventionist. The training includes restraint procedures as well as de-escalation techniques.”

Reach Jamon Smith at or 205-722-0204.