Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Aspergers Child: The Silent Bullying of Asperger's Boys and Girls

My Aspergers Child: The Silent Bullying of Asperger's Boys and Girls

All of the highlighted things happened to my son in the Lee's Summit School District.  He eventually dropped out because it was affecting him emotionally, psychologically, and physically.  I know, from talking to other parents, that this is continuing today.

My Aspergers Child: The Silent Bullying of Asperger's Boys and Girls

The Silent Bullying of Asperger's Boys and Girls

“My Asperger’s son continues to be bullied at school, but nobody there seems to take it seriously. His teach said that ‘he seems to start the arguments by annoying some of the other students.’ O.K. Fine. Maybe this is true, but that doesn’t justify bullying. How can I get the school to take this seriously?”

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, disability harassment is against the law in all schools, school districts, and colleges and universities that receive public funds. “Special needs” kids who are bullied or harassed have legal rights to grievance procedures and due process on the local level. They can also file complaints with the Office of Civil Rights.

Nevertheless, in spite of all these laws and policies, the National Education Association estimates that every 7 minutes of every school day, a youngster is a victim of bullying, and 85% of the time there is no intervention by other children or grown-ups. Your youngster's school may have anti-bullying policies that do not help much on a practical level.

Kids in special education are the most frequent victims of bullies. Kids with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are inevitably victims of bullying. One expert puts the percentage at 100%. The reason is that AS and HFA kids fit the profile of a typical victim (i.e., a "loner" who appears different from other kids). Like hungry wolves that attack a limping sheep that can't keep up with the herd, the boy or girl with clumsy body language and poor social skills appears vulnerable and ripe for bullying. What's worse is the youngster often suffers in silence and does not tell his mother or father about the torment.

Luke Jackson, a thirteen-year-old boy with AS explained it like this: “Aspergers kids don't realize which things they are supposed to go home and tell. ‘What have you done at school today?’ wouldn't automatically bring about the answer, ‘I have been bullied’ unless that subject was specifically brought up.

If your AS or HFA youngster appears under extreme stress, if he is missing school because of headaches and stomachaches, if he has physical injuries and torn clothing, he may be a victim of bullying. If your youngster is stealing money from you, he may be using it to pay off a bully.

Once you determine that your youngster is a victim of bullying, you have to be careful not to make the situation worse. Writing in his book “Freaks, Geeks and Aspergers,” Luke describes what happened after his mom spoke up to his tormentors: “The bullies left me alone for sometime after that. But no amount of threatening by my brother, by the educators, fear of expulsion, pleasant reasoning, absolutely nothing made any difference and they never left me alone. In the end they were physically pushing me around and punching me and it was about the worst time of my entire life.”

Luke endured not only physical beatings, but also name-calling, teasing, tripping so his lunch tray fell all over, having his books destroyed and chairs pulled out from underneath him. He ended up changing schools.

One major problem that Luke's mother and other moms and dads of AS and HFA kids face is that a school may have an anti-bullying policy, yet the staff looks the other way when it happens. Some school administrators are simply more tolerant of bullying than others. Some schools, including Columbine, tolerate a "pecking order" in which athletes and popular children have special privileges and develop a sense of entitlement that leads to a "bullying atmosphere." In such a school, if moms and dads report bullying, the principal may advise them to enroll their youngster in karate or otherwise teach him to stand up for himself. The underlying attitude is that it is the victim's fault. One principal told a mother of an Aspergers boy, "Your son is a little different and it bothers other kids, so he brings this on himself because of who he is." Also in such a school, educators and coaches may bully the “different” youngster too.

Another problem in approaching educators and school administrators is that an AS or HFA youngster does not have the social savvy to tell his side of the story effectively. Bullies typically lack empathy and real feeling, but many are good at crying on cue and playing the victim. Often the Aspergers student gets expelled, and the bully receives no punishment unless the Aspergers student has an effective witness.

In a survey by York University, only 23% of children agreed with this statement: “educators usually - or almost always - intervene when bullies attack.” However, 71% of the educators in the survey agreed. Part of the problem is that educators do not witness most bullying, because it usually happens off campus (which also means the school may not be legally liable for it). AS and HFA kids are most vulnerable when they walk alone to and from school. The other most likely times bullying occurs is during unstructured times (e.g., lunch hour, recess, passing between classes). Bullying peaks in junior high school.

There are things you can do to protect your youngster. It is a good idea to demand an anti-bullying clause in your youngster's Individual Education Plan (IEP). This is a proactive way of having solutions in place and holding the administration to its word in the event your youngster is bullied anytime throughout the year. If your school does not have an anti-bullying program, try to work through the PTO to get one in place. Some schools have a “bullying coordinator” (usually a volunteer) who monitors the lunchroom, restrooms, corridors and playgrounds, and makes sure there is consistent intervention.

If your youngster is a victim of bullying, don't approach the mom or dad of the bully – or the bully himself. According to the research, parents of bullies are often abusive people themselves. Talk to your youngster's teacher and principal in private. Ask for an adult aide to accompany your youngster at all times, if necessary. If the bullying does not stop, you can involve the police or file grievances through your local Office of Civil Rights. If your youngster is in danger, you can home-school him until the situation is under control or transfer him to a private school. If you have to file a lawsuit against the school and the mom and dad of the bully, find a lawyer whose expertise is in special education law.

P.S. Warning to parents: According to statistics, it is very likely that YOUR child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism HAS BEEN or IS BEING bullied. Why don’t you know about it? Because your child won’t tell you! Why won't he tell you? Because he thinks it's a normal, everyday activity that some peers engage in. So, you need to investigate this now – BEFORE your child has been tormented for weeks or months or years! If after your investigation, you discover there has been no bullying against your child, then thank God for it.

Bullying and Autism Spectrum Disorder | Autism NOW Center

Bullying and Autism Spectrum Disorder | Autism NOW Center

I believe that Jake suffers from PTSD due to the bullying he faced from adults and peers while he was in school.

What are the consequences of bullying? Some Autistic people develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or similar symptoms as a direct result of bullying during childhood or adolescence. Symptoms of PTSD include frequent flashbacks, increased incidence of panic attacks, high levels of anxiety, inability to discuss the source of the anxiety or cause of the PTSD, and avoidance of people, places, or things that remind an individual of the stressors that caused the PTSD. Social anxiety problems, like avoidance of public places or events, phone calls, or conversation, can be exacerbated, with some Autistic people becoming extremely insecure about attempting to form or maintain relationships with others due to experiences with bullies who posed as friends. Bullying also creates an environment of extreme hostility for the Autistic person. For Autistic students, bullying can result in lowered grades. In the workplace, it can mean decreased or lower work performance. This hostility and intimidation can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, and less motivation in general.

AUTCOM - Can aversives and restraints produce PTSD in people with autism?

AUTCOM - Can aversives and restraints produce PTSD in people with autism?

Can Aversives and Restraints Produce PTSD in People with Autism?
Published in The Communicator, the newsletter of The Autism National Committee (Summer 1998)

As we learn to listen to people with autism, to their families and to their friends, evidence is growing that, in certain extreme circumstances, behaviors typically explained away as newly-emerged symptoms of the person's autism may in fact indicate something else: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
The general public may have heard of this disorder occurring among Vietnam veterans, Bosnian civilians, or even the young witnesses to the recent spate of schoolyard shootings. In the book Trauma and Recovery (NY: Basic Books, 1992), Judith Lewis Herman, M.D., describes the origins and consequences of PTSD:
"The human response to danger is a complex, integrated system of reactions, encompassing both body and mind. Threat initially arouses the sympathetic nervous system, causing the person in danger to feel an adrenalin rush and go into a state of alert. Threat also concentrates a person's attention on the immediate situation. In addition, threat may alter ordinary perceptions: people in danger are often able to disregard hunger, fatigue, or pain. Finally, threat evokes intense feelings of fear and anger. These changes in arousal, attention, perception, and emotion are normal, adaptive reactions. They mobilize the threatened person for strenuous action, either in battle or in flight.
Traumatic reactions occur when action is of no avail. When neither resistance nor escape is possible, the human system of self-defense becomes overwhelmed and disorganized. Each component of the ordinary response to danger, having lost its utility, tends to persist in an altered and exaggerated state long after the actual danger is over.
Traumatic events produce profound and lasting changes in physiological arousal, emotion, cognition, and memory. More-over, traumatic events may sever these normally integrated functions from one another. The trauma-tized person may experience intense emotion but without clear memory of the event, or may remember everything in detail but without emotion. She may find herself in a constant state of irritability without knowing why. Traumatic symptoms have a tendency to become disconnected from their source and to take on a life of their own." (p. 43)
Among the symptoms of PTSD described by Dr. Herman are alterations in affect regulation, which may be manifested as self-injury or explosive anger; alterations in consciousness, including the unwanted reliving of experiences, either in a sudden, intrusive manner or as a preoccupation or thought that won't go away; and alterations in a person's sense of self or of relations with others, resulting in manifestations of helplessness, paralysis of initiative, isolation, or withdrawal. (p. 121)
As Dr. Herb Lovett observed, "People who have been hurt in the name of therapy may not understand their plight any differently than survivors of cult abuse or sexual abuse. A common feature of post-traumatic stress syndrome is the flashback in which a person acts as if a memory is present reality.... every time they recall their previous maltreatment, unless their panic and rage are recognized as a function of stress, they are likely to be further stigmatized as `impossible to serve.'" (p. 208, Learning to Listen, 1996).
Those who are without speech, whose ability to produce the needed words "on demand" is unreliable, or whose words are discounted, not only may be more vulnerable to what we perceive as "typical" criminal acts, but also to experiences of intense frustration, helplessness, and entrapment in "no-win" situations. An unreliable sensorimotor system -- a body that does not always do what you want it to do -- in combination with "treatments," services, and living facilities which not only fail to help the person accomplish what they need to do, but make their quality of life contingent on their successful accomplishment of what someone else wishes them to do, may, however unintentionally, establish a situation of intense threat from which neither victory nor escape are perceived possible. Those families and people with autism who have reported to the Autism National Committee on trauma-type symptoms often connect them to experiences of this type of "entrapment."
Despite fairly abundant anecdotal evidence, knowledge of the nature, prevalence, and treatment of psychological trauma in the lives of people with severe disabilities is lacking. Herman's book suggests a possible reason. In outlining the historical roots of PTSD research, she observes that "Periods of active investigation have alternated with periods of oblivion." (p. 7). Three forms of trauma have come to light over the past century, and "Each time, the investigation of that trauma has flourished in affiliation with a political movement." (p. 9).
The first to come to public awareness was "hysteria," which the late nineteenth century was briefly inclined to consider as a possible manifestation of the isolated, politically powerless lives led by most Western women (an interpretation later dismissed in favor of Freudian reductionism). The second form of trauma to be studied was "shell shock" or combat neurosis, which became an issue in England and the United States after the First World War and reached a peak after the Vietnam War. Here the political context was the growth of an antiwar movement and a re-thinking of the effects of armed combat in the modern world. The last and most recent type of trauma to achieve widespread public awareness was sexual and domestic violence, spotlighted by the feminist movement as well as modern political advocacy to secure the human rights and protection of children. Many people with disabilities and their advocates would like to add to Herman's list a fourth category, but its recognition may well be dependent on their success in bringing political awareness of issues such as aversive "treatments" and institutional living conditions.
The personal and public recognition of trauma which occurs at the hands of another human being is difficult to achieve, Herman notes: "When traumatic events are natural disasters or `acts of God,' those who bear witness sympathize readily with the victim. But when the traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides.
It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering. ...
In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator's first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make certain that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rational-ization....The perpetrator's argu-ments prove irresistible when the bystander faces them in isolation. Without a supportive social environment, the bystander usually succumbs to the temptation to look the other way...." (pp. 7-8)
How much more operative might this principle be when the victim can be characterized as a person with a severe disability and problem behaviors who must experience aversive "treatments" as a "medical necessity," and when the perpetrator seems both pleasant and reasonable? As Herman observes, those who expect a purveyor of abuse to radiate warning signals will find themselves confused: "Since he does not perceive that anything is wrong with him, he does not seek help -- unless he is in trouble with the law. His most consistent feature, in both the testimony of victims and the observations of psychologists, is his apparent normality....Authoritarian, secretive, sometimes grandiose, and even paranoid, the perpetrator is nevertheless exquisitely sensitive to the realities of power and to social norms. Only rarely does he get into difficulties with the law; rather, he seeks out situations where his tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired. His demeanor provides an excellent camouflage, for few people believe that extraordinary crimes can be committed by men of such conventional appearance." (p. 75).
Nor do perpetrators of abuse have to resort to violence in order to cause trauma: "Although violence is a universal method of terror, the perpetrator may use violence infrequently, as a last resort....Fear is also increased by inconsistent and unpredictable outbursts of vio-lence and by capricious enforce-ment of petty rules." (p. 77)
Dr. Herman finds other key elements in the development of PTSD to be "isolation, secrecy, and betrayal (which) destroy the relationships that would afford protection." (p. 100). In the absence of relationships with caring, affirming people, the foundation of personal develop-ment is undermined.
The only way back from severe psychological trauma is through re-establishing connectedness with others: "Traumatic events destroy the sustaining bonds between individual and community. Those who have survived learn that their sense of self, of worth, of humanity, depends upon a feeling of connection to others. The solidarity of a group provides the strongest protection against terror and despair, and the strongest antidote to traumatic experience. Trauma isolates; the group recreates a sense of belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatizes; the group bears witness and affirms." (p. 214).
It may be significant that the reestablishment of trust and connectedness to others is also the factor credited with improving the lives of people with autism who believe, or whose families believe, that certain of their symptoms originated in psychological trauma. Clearly we have much to learn as this issue begins to receive the attention it deserves.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Autism Is Not About You | The Daily Banter

Autism Is Not About You | The Daily Banter

People with autism get a relentlessly raw deal in the media, and even from the largest organization supposedly devoted to helping them, so it was refreshing to finally see a popular, influential figure help tell a story about autism that kept the focus where it belonged. In his beautiful interview with Ron Suskind, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart pointed out what should be obvious, but which gets very little play in the “awareness” community: having autism is mainly hard on the people who have autism.
Suskind, the Pulitzer-winning political author whom you may remember as the guy whom the Obama administration wasn’t all that happy with a few years back, appeared on The Daily Show to promote his new book, “Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism,” which focuses on Suskind’s son, Owen. There are two remarkable things about this interview, the first being that Stewart and Suskind actually make Owen’s experience with autism the focal point of the discussion, rather than Owen’s effect on the people around him. The other is the clip that Stewart plays at the conclusion of the interview, of the graceful adaptation Owen has made to connect with his father (you can watch the extended interview here):
Through my writing about autism and the media, I've cyber-met many parents of children with autism who have their priorities straight, but it’s been my experience that they are the minority. In real life, I've never met an autism parent who didn't want to bitch about how hard it is on their own lives, or trade pats on the back over our mutual suffering. I’m sorry, but if you have a child with autism, and your first thought every day isn't how hard it is to have autism in a neuro-typical world, then you are failing at life.
That’s nothing, though, compared to the treatment of autism in the media. Aside from the toxic anti-vaccination crowd, which has made autism its favored Macguffin, the mainstream media has engaged in a relentless campaign of slander against people with autism. When it was revealed that the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murderer had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (along with unidentified mental health issues), every single news outlet reported, without a shred of scientific basis, that the autism either may have been, or was, responsible for that crime.
Even before that, though, there were efforts to connect autism with mass murderers who weren't even on the spectrum. Leading that effort was MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who tried to pin the Aurora movie theater shooting on autism, and said that “more often than not,” mass shooters are “somewhere on the autism spectrum.” At that time, the total number of mass shooters who had ever had a confirmed diagnosis of an ASD was precisely zero. Scarborough offered a non-apology that was exposed for the hollow excuse that it was when he fairly gloated at the news of the Newtown shooter’s diagnosis, and made the assertion again.
What makes Scarborough’s slander that much more sickening, though, is the fact that he is the parent of an autistic child himself, which not only deepens the betrayal but which gives his audience the false impression that he’s some kind of expert on autism.
Then, there’s Autism Speaks, the most prominent autism charity, which gave Scarborough cover for his slander. They make a hell of a magnet, but in case their continued embrace of Scarborough wasn't telling enough, here’s what they think of people with autism:

Perhaps most sickening, though, is the surprisingly common narrative that says parents of autistic kids sometimes have no choice but to murder them. That was the gist of a report, by CBS News’ erstwhile investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, explaining and excusing the murder of 14 year-old Alex Spourdalakis by his mother and his godmother. It’s probably the most evil piece of mainstream journalism I’ve ever seen. That’s saying a lot, even within the narrow subset of Sharyl Attkisson’s autism reporting.
I have two children with ASDs, but I don’t think it makes me an expert on autism. My oldest is about to get his master’s degree from the Stevens Institute of Technology, an accomplishment for which I take zero credit. My layman’s understanding of autism is that it’s like being dropped off in a country where you don’t speak the language, and no one understands your language, except that obstacle applies to every one of your five senses. Succeeding in a world like that, one which refuses to meet you anywhere near halfway, is a remarkable achievement that I can’t begin to get my head around.
My youngest, Liam, is going to be nine this year, and I saw a lot of him in Suskind’s story. He and Stewart joked that it was a lucky thing that Owen’s affinity wasn't for Tarantino movies, but one of Liam’s (many) affinities is for the film Road House. Fans of that film will immediately understand why there’s an index card stapled to my kitchen wall which reads “For a good Buick call.”
He’s also fond of vacuum cleaners (especially Dysons), school buses (there are “emergency exits” all over my house, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and, for a time, Kill Bill, but he watches Road House every night as he goes to sleep. It’s a challenge to figure out what all of these things mean, and Suskind’s insights are incredibly valuable in this regard, but it is nothing compared to the challenge that Liam faces in getting his dumbass dad to understand him. Hearing someone in the media actually trying to see the world from the point of view of a person with autism, which should be the norm, was like a bolt of lightning.
Autism is not about you, Jenny McCarthy, Joe Scarborough, Autism Speaks, autism parents, and shitty reporters. It’s not about how hard your lives are, or what saints you are for not murdering them, or what bogus science you’re spreading. It is about the children with autism, and the adults that they become. If you love someone with autism, if you care at all about them, you need to fix yourselves. A good place to start would be to listen to them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2 arrested for abuse at VA autism center - - Richmond, VA News

2 arrested for abuse at VA autism center - - Richmond, VA News


A teacher and teaching assistant at a Virginia autism center are accused of abusing a child with special needs and trying to cover it up.
The York-Poquoson Sheriff's Office arrested Diane "Renee" Smith and Darcie Badami, who both work at the New Horizons Center for Autism and Yorktown. The school is part of Yorktown Middle School.
A staff member at the school heard a child screaming in a classroom on Friday and went to see what was going on. She told deputies she saw a teaching assistant chasing a 13-year-old student with special needs around the room. The woman said she saw the teaching assistant catch the child, then begin sticking the boy several times in the arm with a push pin. The teaching assistant then lifted his shirt and used a cleaning wipe on the wounds, causing even more pain, according to the Sheriffs Office.
The witness said she heard the teaching assistant and a teacher conspire to cover up the abuse by saying the push pin marks were bug bites. The witness went to the school administration who reported it to Child Protective Services.
Deputies began investigating on Monday and have found at least four potential victims of physical abuse, according to
Smith, 45, faces assault and battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor charges. Badami, 35, was also charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Badami is listed as a teacher on the school's website
An official at the school says the two suspects are now on leave and that the center was cooperating with authorities.
"The New Horizons Center for Autism responded in a timely and decisive manner to the reported information. We continue to work in full cooperation with The York-Poquoson Sheriff's Office and Child Protective Services in this investigation," said Joseph Johnson with New Horizons Regional Education Centers. "Student safety and treatment is a school priority that we take very seriously. We consider this a very serious matter and will take all appropriate disciplinary and corrective actions."
Sheriffs are still investigating to see if there are any other victims. They ask anyone with information on this crime to call the Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.

Lee's Summit R-7 School District: Poverty and academic struggle go hand-in-hand : News

Lee's Summit R-7 School District: Poverty and academic struggle go hand-in-hand : News

This is why our district looks good on paper.  They have a lower percentage of students in poverty.  If they had to face the struggles that KC did they wouldn't fare any better.  This is just my opinion, but our test scores show that we are failing these students, too.  We just don't have as many of them.  Therefore, our district can boast about their success when they actually are just blessed with students that aren't facing the same issues.  

Brad Busby has seen the effects of poverty rise in the Riverview Gardens School District in the 15 years he’s been a counselor there, and he believes it has hurt student success.
“Hunger. Exhaustion,” he said, ticking off the circumstances that confront pupils daily at Glasgow Elementary School. First-graders with post-traumatic stress disorder. Children whose families have faced multiple evictions. “Sometimes the parents aren’t there at night,” he continued. “I did a home visit last month. There were 19 people in that house.”
They are the trappings of poverty. And where poverty is found, so too, is academic struggle.
The correlation between high-poverty schools and low academic achievement sounds obvious, and it is well-documented over decades. But as Missouri has had perhaps its deepest conversation to date about the state of its failing schools, the connection between poverty and performance has never been so plain.
Data analysis by the Post-Dispatch shows that in schools with some of the highest concentrations of poverty and minority children, students are a third as likely to pass state exams as students at schools of higher affluence. And at several of such high schools, they’re half as likely to graduate.
It’s a chasm few schools are crossing. On one side are successful schools, where three-quarters of students have parents of means. On the other side are struggling schools, where all but a handful of children come from challenging economic backgrounds.
Addressing the disparity in a way that brings results still eludes most educators.
“What is it that changes in the school, in the students, in the administration, when the poverty level changes?” asked Mark Tranel, director of Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and member of the Riverview Gardens Special Administrative Board. “Something has to be going on that’s different.”
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is attempting new ways to improve learning in troubled districts such as Normandy and Riverview Gardens, both overwhelmingly African-American, where steep drops in property value and income levels have accompanied academic decline.
The call to action reached a crescendo last summer when the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a law that allows children in unaccredited districts to transfer into better schools, with their home district paying the cost.
As a result, about 2,200 students in Normandy and Riverview Gardens — both in north St. Louis County — left for better schools in more affluent districts, draining both school systems of resources.
The crisis prompted the Missouri Legislature to amend the transfer law to soften its impact on struggling school districts. It has also led the Missouri Board of Education to take a more active role in remaking failing districts, while demanding state involvement whenever the learning gap between rich and poor children exceeds that of the state.
But neither action addresses the high concentration of poverty in the state’s worst school districts.
“To educate children from poverty is complicated,” said Russell Still of Columbia, a member of the state Board of Education who spent several years as a classroom teacher in Detroit. “I learned how hard it is. You have to do a lot of things besides just trying to do instruction.”
Now, the state board is set to consider on Tuesday a proposal to reconstitute the Normandy school system, a district nearly bankrupt, where the percentage of homeless children has more than tripled since 2008. The concentration of poverty has increased by 20 percent in 10 years. Nine out of 10 children are now on federally subsidized lunches, a marker of poverty.
The proposal will come from an appointed panel of educators, alumni and former lawmakers that has wrestled with Normandy’s future since March.
“We have to get the instruction right,” said Carole Basile, chairwoman of the panel and dean of the College of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “We understand that we can only get them so far and then we’ve got to make sure the wraparound services are in place. To deal with the transiency. The kids who haven’t seen the dentist. These are somebody’s responsibilities. It ends up being the school’s.”
Missouri’s debate over failing school districts has come at a time when the state’s own data show how deeply the income divide has become.
The education department released for the first time last summer performance scores for every school across the state, using various measures such as standardized test results, ACT scores, graduation rates and attendance.
Based on a Post-Dispatch analysis of that data, roughly 50 schools in the St. Louis area did so poorly last year they would be considered unaccredited. In those schools:
• 92 percent of students received federally subsidized lunches.
• 95 percent of students are minorities.
• 87 percent is the mobility rate — the number of transfers in or out of the school divided by the total enrollment.
• Less than 20 percent of children tested at grade level or better on state reading and math exams.
At higher-performing schools, the nearly 400 in the region that did well enough to be considered accredited, the factors were essentially reversed:
• 36 percent of students received federally subsidized lunches.
• 28 percent of children are minorities.
• 27 percent is the mobility rate.
• 60 percent or more students scored proficient or advanced in state reading or math exams.
Data from Illinois show a similar correlation in the Metro East area. Districts with the highest concentrations of poverty — such as East St. Louis, Venice, Brooklyn and Cahokia school districts — perform the worst.
Academic struggle is greatest where poverty is high. But that’s only one way of looking at the gap.
It’s also true that children from poor households, on average, trail their peers most everywhere. That gap exists even in affluent and successful school districts such as Ladue and Parkway.
The economic divide can also be found among schools in a single district.
In St. Louis Public Schools, the three highest-performing schools have the lowest poverty levels in the city. In fact, the poverty rate at Kennard Classical Junior Academy, one of the best elementary schools in the state, is lower than either of the two elementary schools in Brentwood, an affluent district in St. Louis County.
However, in the city’s 18 worst district schools, 97 percent of children come from poverty, Superintendent Kelvin Adams has said.
“There’s a strong correlation,” Adams said. “You can’t walk away from the correlation no matter what you do. You just can’t.”
In a visit to St. Louis recently, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said few — if any — tasks are more important than trying to help a child overcome poverty through education.
But the poverty barrier is a stubborn one. It often drives the quality of a child’s diet. It usually indicates the education level of parents, how often a child is spoken to at home, whether they’re exposed to high levels of stress and whether they face violence in their neighborhoods.
“These communities are poor because the families are poor,” Duncan said after a conference at the America’s Center. “Why are these families poor? Because the vast majority of parents didn’t get a great education.”
Even so, Duncan and education reformers have long argued that poverty shouldn’t be used as an excuse for any child’s academic struggles.
“You can’t be satisfied to save a couple kids and leave the rest to drown,” Duncan said.
Organizations such as Teach for America and KIPP, a successful charter school organization, take a no-excuses approach to helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Through various strategies, such as high-energy teaching and longer school days, they’ve found some success. It’s the underlying philosophy at North Side Community School, an elementary charter school housed inside a former orphanage on North Euclid Avenue. Ninety-eight percent of children at the school come from poverty, and yet more than half of them passed reading and math exams last year.
School leaders largely credit the teaching staff.
But there are other ingredients at the school that target the effects of poverty. The school provides free preschool for 4-year-olds, financed by private donors, to help boost early vocabulary and other forms of comprehension. Teachers do home visits. No classroom has more than 15 children. Children second grade and up are in school until 5 p.m.
Many skeptics contend that successful charter schools may be weeding out children with bad behavior and children who are behind academically. They question whether their longer days and teaching strategies could ever prove successful in district schools.
And yet, there are early signs of academic rebirth in the Jennings School District, where Superintendent Tiffany Anderson is using approaches she used leading a high-performing charter school in Kansas City.
Since arriving in 2012, she has fired two dozen ineffective teachers and principals, while working with a community partner to open a food bank. The district also has cut administrative positions to afford services such as dinner for children who otherwise might go hungry.
As children streamed through the doors at Glasgow Elementary one recent morning, Busby, the school counselor, had been there an hour already.
If the day were to unfold like most, he’d have children coming into his office with accounts of trauma. Some may report abuse, an eviction, or bring tales of the electricity being shut off.
“I’m not saying it’s every child,” Busby said. “We just have large numbers. Our parents are unemployed. Our parents are single, for the most part, with three, four children. There are not jobs in this area.”
In fields of research, there’s uncertainty whether poverty itself causes low academic achievement, or whether it’s tied more to emotional needs not being met at home.
Researchers at Washington University released a study in October of 305 preschoolers that found two key brain structures that were smaller in poor children — one that affects emotional health, and another critical to learning and memory. However, the researchers also found that a nurturing home life may offset some of the negative changes in brain anatomy.
At Glasgow Elementary, 98 percent of the 323 pupils receive subsidized lunches, according to the district. In the five years Busby has worked there, he’s seen a rise in social and emotional problems. “Not poverty itself,” he said, “but the things that poverty brings.”
He has a stack of papers on his desk — cases of children who need the services of specialists, such as child psychiatrists. Yet, more often than not, parents don’t have transportation to get their children to an appointment when he can help secure one.
Riverview Gardens borders the northern edge of St. Louis. Its subdivisions were developed mostly after World War II to attract middle-class whites in the city who wanted front lawns, attached garages and good schools.
But as African-Americans later moved into the area, many whites uprooted and left for St. Charles County, leaving behind a school district that is now overwhelmingly African-American and poor.
Children at Lewis & Clark Elementary get to school by walking through Castle Point, a subdivision of broken windows and weedy front yards with street names such as Prince and Baron drives.
“When 1.5 million white people try to distance themselves from a half-million African-Americans, there are consequences,” said Tranel, the UMSL researcher. “This could be one of them.”
Median household income has dropped 16 percent, adjusted for inflation, from 2007 to 2012, to $31,125. And 45 percent of homes in Riverview Gardens were rentals.
Children in Riverview Gardens transfer in and out of schools at rates four times higher than those in accredited school systems. High mobility is another hallmark of low-performing schools, adding another layer of complication to improving the education of children there.
At Glasgow Elementary, “I have had families up and move, and they never told us,” Busby said. “I’ve had families that have enrolled here, and I never got records from another school. You come to find out that the family has moved the children to three different schools, and the records are two years behind.”
In St. Louis, the mobility problem is the worst in the state. Nineteen schools had mobility rates that exceeded 100 percent last year, according to state data.
“It’s linked to poverty,” Superintendent Adams said. “If you don’t have a stable environment, if you’re moving from place to place, how can you focus on school?”
Every morning before dawn, Holly Adams says goodbye to her two daughters and niece who walk to Glasgow Elementary. There they catch buses for schools in the Mehlville School District in south St. Louis County.
It’s been an exhausting year.
“I did it for the better education,” Adams said. She feels her children are doing better than they did at Glasgow and the other schools in Riverview Gardens, mostly because they tell her they’re enjoying school more.
Data suggest they are likely receiving a better education, based on how well disadvantaged students do in Mehlville schools versus those in their home district.
But what Adams said she didn’t know is that in Mehlville, children from disadvantaged backgrounds still perform 20 percentage points or more below their wealthier peers on state reading and math exams. There’s also an 8-point difference in graduation rates.
And the racial gap in Mehlville is even wider, with a 30 percentage-point difference between how white and black children perform on standardized exams.
This is notable because the overwhelming majority of children who transferred from Riverview Gardens and Normandy are black and come from low-income families.
“We’re not knocking it out of the park when it comes to educating kids who are less fortunate or coming from poverty-stricken homes,” said Eric Knost, superintendent of Mehlville schools. “Success in public education in the United States is correlated to impoverished neighborhoods and communities. The connection is there, and people just have to own up to it.”
To be sure, economically disadvantaged children do better in higher-performing districts than in schools where poverty is highly concentrated. Nevertheless, the economic gap appears in nearly all school districts in Missouri.
And economically disadvantaged students are falling further behind their more affluent classmates, based on reading scores. The gap in math has narrowed, but only by a single percentage point since 2008.
This is of particular concern because poor children comprise a greater percentage of Missouri’s public school population each year, making up half of enrollment last year, up from 40 percent in 2003.
Ty McNichols, superintendent of Normandy schools, said the disparity is best understood in the life experiences and services that families can afford.
McNichols’ own children attend Ladue schools, and have two educators for parents. McNichols’ $180,000 income gives them advantages that many children he’s trying to educate in Normandy don’t have access to, he said.
When one of his own children began to struggle in school, he did what many other parents do in Ladue: He hired a tutor from Sylvan Learning Center, who can cost between $36 and $49 an hour. The tutoring worked. His child no longer struggles, and the Ladue School District gets credit for the results.
“Parents do what they need to do to ensure their kids are successful,” McNichols said. “What people don’t take into consideration is, it’s not just the school resources. It’s the family.”
If the Normandy district had resources to provide every one of its struggling students with a private tutor, it would, McNichols has said.
But instead, the transfer situation has required him to cut staff and services. The district is expected to run out of money this summer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Did We Really Need This Bill?

Did we really need this bill?  Couldn't our Representative spend more time making sure that our children are getting the education that they are Federally entitled to?  How about making sure that corporal punishment isn't used in Missouri schools?  How about stopping the use of restraint and seclusion?  Was he just writing bills so that he looked like he was doing something?

This bill prohibits the Department of Natural Resources from
regulating the manufacture, performance, or use of residential wood
burning heaters or appliances through a state implementation plan
or otherwise, unless authorized to do so by the General Assembly.
No rule or regulation establishing or the enforcing performance
standards for residential wood burning heaters or appliances may
become effective unless first approved by the Joint Committee on
Administrative Rules.
No new rules or regulations may be applied to existing wood burning
furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, or heaters that individuals are
currently using as their source of heat for their homes or
businesses. All wood burning furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, and
heaters existing on August 28, 2014 may not be subject to any rules
or regulations. No employee of the state or state agency can
enforce any new rules or regulations against such existing wood
burning furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, and heaters.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Expelled students need alternative education - St. Louis American: Guest Columnists

Expelled students need alternative education - St. Louis American: Guest Columnists

For students who have been expelled from school, an alternative education is critical to getting them back on track and moving forward to a brighter future.
Statistically, expelled or suspended students often end up on the wrong track, derailed and facing a bleak future filled with uncertainty, false starts, frustration and possibly a life of crime or drugs.
A case in point: a 13-year-old student was expelled by the Hazelwood School District.
At home for six months with no educational options and an unemployed mother who could not afford a private alternative education for him, the seventh grader was in serious jeopardy until Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (LSEM) and its Children’s Legal Alliance program stepped in.
Alleging that the Hazelwood School District’s refusal to provide an alternative education violated the student’s right to a free public education (as guaranteed by the Missouri Constitution and citing the district’s statutory obligation under 167.164 RSMo), LSEM filed a lawsuit against Hazelwood.
LSEM further alleged that the refusal to provide an alternative education violated the student’s right to equal protection under the Missouri Constitution. Currently, the state provides an alternative education to children who become involved in the juvenile court system and to children who are certified as adults and incarcerated in Missouri prisons.
Yet the student, who had not been charged with any crime, was not receiving any alternative education. Named as co-defendants in the lawsuit were the State of Missouri, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Missouri State Board of Education.
The lawsuit was subsequently settled. In addition to changing it policy, the district agreed to pay for the student to attend an off-campus alternative education program called ACE. At ACE, the teen-ager is flourishing academically while his mother, who was previously unemployed partly because of her son’s expulsion, is back to work.  
While the case was successful, it remains to be seen whether the settlement will put the spotlight back on a recurring problem: the failure of Missouri school districts to provide expelled students or those under long-term suspensions any alternative education.
Contending they have no legal obligations to provide alternative options, many school district leaders and officials refuse it even though districts would receive the same amount of funds from the state as it does for a traditional classroom education.
This denial of education is unfortunate.
Underlying research clearly demonstrates that offering alternative education to suspended or expelled pupils benefits them and society as a whole. Without an alternative, bad outcomes can occur.
Without day care or other arrangement options, the parent is often forced to quit his or her job to stay at home with the child. If left alone or not adequately supervised, the child could become susceptible to gang or other delinquent or criminal activity. And the child will not graduate from high school, all but eliminating post-secondary opportunities.
The positives of providing alternative education include a chance to return to high school and graduate while reducing delinquency and school failure. It’s also more cost-effective to society to educate these teens or children rather than kicking them to the curb, where welfare and prison costs are steep and crime and drugs reside.
Recently, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education published guidance in response to reports that children of color and children with disabilities are disproportionately suspended or expelled from school. That guidance concluded that children be removed from school only as a last resort, and if removed, they should be given an alternative education and returned to the regular education classroom as soon as possible.
It’s too early to tell whether other school districts will take note of LSEM’s lawsuit and, like Hazelwood, change its policy of refusing alternative education to all expelled students.

Now is the time for all Missouri education leaders and stakeholders to reconsider this outdated and ineffective approach that ultimately harms students and society long after the final bell has rung.