Seclusion & Restraint Surges in Madison

In response to an Open Records request, I recently received the 2015-16 school year seclusion and restraint use data from the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). As MMSD has not published this data on its website, contact me at through my website if you want a copy of the data.

The use of these dangerous, aversive techniques rose significantly from the previous year, which had increased from the year before that as the numbers below reveal. Even more troubling is the wide variation of use of seclusion and restraint between schools and particularly high use in elementary and alternative schools, as well as among children with disabilities.

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U.S. Senator Tom Harking introduced the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” in 2014

MMSD 2015-16 Seclusion & Restraint Data highlights

Numbers of Students Impacted

  • Elementary School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 7.09
  • Elementary School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 5.23
  • Elementary School with Highest Use: Orchard Ridge: 16 students with disabilities/33 students without disabilities (lowest numbers were redacted by school district to protect confidentiality)
  • Middle School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 5.62
  • Middle School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 3.46
  • Middle School with Highest Use: Whitehorse: 7 students with disabilities/ 0 students without disabilities
  • Middle School with Lowest Use: O’Keefe had 0 incidents of seclusion or restraint
  • High School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 3
  • High School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 1.6
  • High School with Highest Use: East: 18 students with Disabilities/ 19 students without disabilities.
  • High School with Lowest Use: Shabazz had 0 incidents of seclusion or restraint

Numbers of Incidents

  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 56.29
  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 74.6
  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Seclusion  and Restraint Used in combination: 36.6
  • Elementary Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 94.29
  • Elementary School with Highest Use: LEAP (Olson Elementary Alternative Program): 435 total incidents (note as number of students was redacted, this means that 5 or fewer students were secluded and/or restrained a total of 435 times)
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Restraint Only: 12.38
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Only: 10.38
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Seclusion and Restraint Used in combination: 6.62
  • Middle School Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 16.15
  • Middle School with Highest Use: Sennett: 27 total incidents (note as number of students was redacted, this means that 5 or fewer students were secluded and/or restrained a total of 27 times)
  • High School Mean Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 7.33
  • High School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 5.17
  • High School Mean Incidents of Seclusion and Restraint Used in combination: 3.5
  • High School Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 9
  • High School with Highest Use: East: 49 total incidents

Districtwide Totals

  • Students with Disabilities Secluded and/or Restrained: 324
  • Students without Disabilities Secluded and/or Restrained: 231
  • Total Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 2,136
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 2,749
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion & Restraint in Combination: 1,369
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion and/or Restraint Use: 3,516

MMSD Analysis

  • 2% of MMSD students experienced seclusion and/or restraint
  • 5.6% of MMSD students with disabilities experienced seclusion and/or restraint
  • Seclusion and restraint use is highest in elementary schools (16.49%)
  • Mean incidents of restraint use in elementary schools was 56.3/building with a range per building of 1 to 436
  • Mean incidents of seclusion use in elementary schools was 74.6/building with a range of 0 to 309
  • There has been a steady increase in use of seclusion in restraint since data was collected for the first time in 2013-14 as follows:
    • 2013-14: 975 incidents of restraint and 1,387 incidents of seclusion
    • 2014-15: 1,266 incidents of restraint and 1,688 incidents of seclusion
    • 2015-16: 1,452 incidents of restraint and 2.064 incidents of seclusion
  • A small number of elementary schools account for the vast number of incidents with 23 elementary schools reported increased use and only 12 elementary schools reporting a decline.
  • MMSD hypothesizes that the increased use is simply due to better data collection
  • MMSD concedes that, “for those elementary schools that have consistently demonstrated increases in the number of incidents of restraint and seclusion, a pattern of over-reliance on restraint/seclusion may be evident.” MMSD plans training and follow up for these schools.

Conclusions

When I helped to pass Act 125 in 2012 to document and regulate the use of seclusion and restraint in Wisconsin schools, one of the chief goals was to reduce the use of these aversive techniques. Sadly, MMSD has gone in the opposite direction, and has failed to:

  1. hold principals of schools with continually increasing rates accountable for these increases;
  2. correlate the increased use of seclusion and restraint with a decreased use of suspension; and
  3. establish clear goals for the reduction and eventual elimination of the use of seclusion and restraint in MMSD schools.

Simply blaming the increasing numbers on better documentation is insufficient in the face of an ever increasing use of dangerously aversive techniques that are well known to traumatize children. In order to reverse this troubling trend, MMSD must insist on better training in the use of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and accountability for its staff and administrators who fail to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of seclusion and restraint.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Playing with Whales

For the past week, my wife and I have enjoyed vacationing in Nova Scotia, where neither of us had ever been before. It is very beautiful, with vast forests, mountains, lakes and of course, many miles of Atlantic ocean coast line. We attempted to go whale watching early in our trip in Cape Breton. Alas, the whales did not cooperate and although we had a lovely boat trip, we did not see any whales.

Now, we are down on the southern coast, and  yesterday we decided to go on another whale watching excursion in the Bay of Fundy, which is well known for its 16 foot tides. In fact, in Annapolis Royal (the first European settlement in Canada), Nova Scotia Power operates North America’s only Tidal Power Station (check out this video for an explanation of how it works).

As we boarded the boat, I informed the captain, that my wife and I were disappointed that we didn’t see whales on our previous excursion in Cape Breton. He smiled and said that while he could not guarantee a sighting, he succeeded in finding whales 99.9% of the time.

Sure enough, not long after our boat headed out of the channel and into the larger sea, we spotted two Humpback whales, the guides told us they were a mother and daughter, the daughter being about 8 months old and recently weaned. They estimated their size at approximately 45 feet long, with the mother being somewhat longer, about the size of our boat.

What happened next surprised everyone, including the experienced crew. The mother and daughter whale apparently decided that they would  enjoy our company and they simply swam back and forth under and around the boat, even nudging it occasionally. They were so close, we could see their eyes and the barnacles which had attached to them.

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Everyone on board, including the Captain and crew, watched the playful whales with sheer amazement. The Captain and crew repeatedly exclaimed that this playful show was truly exceptional. Perhaps my wife and I were meant not to see whales in Cape Breton as had we seen them, we may not have taken this second excursion.

Earlier in our Canadian trip, my son (who is currently studying abroad) asked me why Canadians have their heads screwed on right? While I cannot say for sure, I do know that even as a teenager growing up in Detroit during the Vietnam war, every time I crossed the border into Canada, I felt cleaner (even though Windsor is not the cleanest Canadian city).

Maybe Canadians understand that their destiny is shared with nature, and that in order to succeed, they need to play with nature, not fight against it. Given their harsh winters, one might imagine that an American response would be of conquest, but Canadians instead build tidal power plants and play with whales.

Of course, like all nations, Canadians have some troubled history. But, Canadians took a monumental step when they enshrined the rights of aboriginal people, generally known as First Nations, in their Constitution in 1982. The term elevates First Nations to the status of “first among equals” alongside the English and French as founding nations of Canada.

Perhaps, if more people in the United States saw our richly diverse heritage in this way, that each component of our nation’s varied tapestry is just a first among equals, we would experience less racism and xenophobia. Maybe, more people just need to go play with whales.

As I write this, here is my view:

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The Earth’s natural beauty helps refresh me for systems change efforts to come. After all, if we can play with whales, we can overcome whale size problems. It just takes the right combination of people with the right approach.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

If it Ain’t Broke…

You know the tried and true maxim, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Just about everyone believes that is a sound way of living one’s life. That’s what I thought too until a few weeks ago when I went to the funeral of Will Simmons, the son of a friend of mine and great disability advocate, Liz Hecht and her husband Scott Simmons.

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I got to know Will through my synagogue, as Will had his Bar Mitzvah there about 14 years ago. Since I was President of our synagogue, I had the good fortune of saying a few words of congratulations to Will and bestowing upon him a gift from our synagogue.

Will’s Bar Mitzvah was not a typical Bar Mitzvah. Will had some disabilities, and as a result his speech was very hard for most people to understand. To accommodate his disability, Will read the Torah and led other parts of the service using a computerized voice. This was the first, and is still the only time, that I have seen anyone become a Bar Mitzvah using assistive technology.

Will went on from his Bar Mitzvah and earned a college degree. He even became certified in scuba diving despite many physical challenges.

Sadly, Will died unexpectedly in his sleep a few weeks ago, and I was fortunate to be able to attend his funeral service. Many beautiful eulogies were given by friends and family, but the most profound eulogy came from his roommate and best friend, Sam Katz. Sam also has some disabilities, but like Will, he is also a college graduate, and refuses to let his disabilities stop him from accomplishing his goals.

During Sam’s eulogy, he shared with the hundreds of friends and family members who gathered to pay tribute to Will, that Will’s favorite saying was,

If it ain’t broke, you’re not trying hard enough.

As you might imagine, hearing this tried and true phrase turned inside out made me and probably everyone else, think about why one would prefer to break things rather than leave well enough alone.

As soon as I heard Sam share this inside out version of the truism, I smiled, as I realized that Will had a passion for viewing the world in a way that would work for him, rather than  remain content with a world that was not built for someone who used a wheelchair and whose speech was difficult to understand.

As someone who has dedicated most of my life to systems change, I realized that Will’s view of the world makes a lot of sense. While it might be easier to leave things alone if they are not broken, the truth is that the status quo is simply not acceptable for the vast number of people that do not fit neatly into mainstream society’s norms.

For Will, if computer software did not perform in a way that fit his needs, even if it was not necessarily broken, he knew that he would have to try harder to make the software (or any other tool or device) fit his needs, even if it meant breaking it to do so.

Nobody ever discovered anything new by remaining content with the status quo. Will refused to be content with the status quo because it was not built for him. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires reasonable modifications and accommodations to buildings and programs so that those with disabilities can fully participate in society.

Will’s abbreviated life, and the way he chose to live it, with tremendous support from his  parents, sister, family, friends and caregivers, which sadly ended too soon, provides important lessons for those who may be square pegs trying to fit into society’s round holes. As he said, “If it ain’t broke, you’re not trying hard enough.”

May Will’s memory be a blessing and his lesson help many live a better life.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

School to Prison Pipeline Close to Home

Recently, the Madison school board voted to modify the contract it has with the City of Madison through which it pays for 4 full time police officers (one stationed in each high school). Unfortunately, rather than taking this vote as an opportunity for a serious conversation about the role of police in our schools, Madison’s Mayor, Paul Soglin threatened to remove the police from the high schools if an agreement is not reached within 45 days, though to date, he has been unwilling to engage in serious negotiations on the issue.

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Courtesy: Atlanta Black Star

While it is unclear how these negotiations will conclude, both the City and the school board would be wise to examine the available data on juvenile arrest rates to determine whether they are feeding the school to prison pipeline. I recently obtained a copy of a Dane County report with very useful data, Juvenile Population, Arrest, Law Enforcement Referral, and Recidivism in Dane County, 2007‐ 2015There is some good news. Despite an increase in the juvenile population in Dane County from about 45,000 in 2001, to just under 48,000 in 2014, the number of juvenile arrests have fallen from about 8,000 in 2001, to around 3,000 in 2015. While that is a dramatic decline, it is, nevertheless stunning to see the high percentage of juveniles arrested in Dane County. It should be noted, however, that the number of arrests of white juveniles was about the same as that of black juveniles in 2015, but due to the much smaller black population in Dane County, the arrest rate of black juveniles is 3.5 times higher than that of white juveniles.

However, arrests just start the juvenile justice process. The next step is a referral for prosecution. Referrals for prosecution also highlight a huge racial disparity. In 2015, 483 black juveniles were referred for prosecution compared to only 299 white juveniles. Overall, the juvenile referral rate has risen dramatically from 2007-2015 as follows:

  • Total juvenile arrest referral rate increase=37.7%
  • White juvenile arrest referral rate increase=41.1%
  • Black juvenile arrest referral rate increase=26.7%

The arrest referral disparity between white and black juveniles in 2015 is almost 2:1.

The most relevant data to the current debate about police in our schools is that the most common location for juvenile arrest is in school. In 2015, 22.3% of all juvenile justice referrals were from arrests that took place at school. The percentage of school arrests by race were split evenly among white, black and Hispanic juveniles at around 22% (no explanation is given for the other 34%). In 2015, 81 of the 188 Dane County school law enforcement referrals took place in MMSD schools, 67 of which were at MMSD high schools. It is worth noting that the single highest juvenile law enforcement referral has been the very generic disorderly conduct.

When juveniles enter the justice system they are assigned a social worker who makes a recommendation  to the district attorney regarding formal charges. It is worth noting that the DA has consistently charged juveniles at a higher rate than the social worker recommendation. In 2015, social workers recommended charged in 46% of cases, while prosecutors charged 56% of such cases. The racial disparities are stark. In 2015, prosecutors charged:

  • 62% of black juvenile arrestees;
  • 53% of Hispanic juvenile arrestees; and
  • 43% of white juvenile arrestees.

As the City of Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District negotiate the future role of police officers in our schools, examining this data, with eye towards elimination of the school to prison pipeline and elimination of racial disparities in juvenile arrests should be a critical piece of the conversation.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

 

 

My Congressman in Palestine

Cong. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) is a progressive leader whom I have known since before he was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1998. I have had the pleasure of meeting with him many times and he is always eager to learn from whomever he meets.

Recently, his local Chief of Staff reached out to invite me to attend a talk Cong. Pocan was giving in Madison to share what he learned from his trip to Palestinian territories this past June. Fortunately, my calendar was clear and earlier today, I attended his very interesting presentation.

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Cong. Mark Pocan talking about his recent trip to the Palestinian territories.

Cong. Pocan has had a human rights lens to his world view dating back to his visits to Madison sister cities in Colombia and El Salvador when he served on the Dane County Board 25 years ago. As such, although he entered Congress with little knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was eager to learn and see what he could do to promote peace in the region. Although he had traveled to Israel on previous Congressional delegations, he wanted to visit the Palestinian territories and meet with their leaders and citizens. An opportunity arose when the Humpty Dumpty Institute (which seeks to put the pieces back together in broken situations), sponsored a trip for him and a few other progressive colleagues in Congress to see what was really going on in the Palestinian territories. It was the first Congressional delegation to Palestine.

Cong. Pocan met with the US consul to Palestine, had lunch with Israeli Arab members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), met with Palestinian youth and students, as well as leaders including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat. He visited E. Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem and candidly admitted that he is still learning about this complex situation and does not claim to be an expert.

During his talk, Cong. Pocan made it quite clear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are obstacles to peace. He reminded everyone of Netanyahu’s snub of President Obama when he refused to meet with him but created a political commercial for himself when he spoke to Congress. Cong. Pocan refused to attend that talk along with 60 other members of Congress.

Rep. Pocan also reminded the audience of the tremendous blow back that he and other members of Congress took for supporting the Iran nuclear agreement. He singled out Sec. Clinton for her strong effort to sway Congress to support it.

Pocan noted that continued Israeli settlement expansion violates any meaningful effort towards achieving a peaceful 2 state solution. Daily checkpoints along the barrier wall which Israel has erected, manned by young Israeli soldiers makes life difficult for both sides.

When the delegation went to Hebron, they saw the inequity between Israel’s protection of approximately 800 settlers in a Palestinian city of 270,000.  He noted that many settlers are actually American citizens. While the delegation was able to see whatever they wanted in the West Bank, visiting Gaza was another matter altogether.

They were told by both the Israeli and the U.S. government that it was unsafe to go to Gaza. However, that did not deter Cong. Pocan, as he heard the same things when he went to Colombia and El Salvador in the 90s, and in fact, was held captive for 5 days by Colombian rebels during one visit. His delegation had arranged for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to escort them through Gaza. Unfortunately, however, the Israeli government refused to let the delegation enter Gaza. Cong. Pocan hopes to visit Gaza in the future and he said that J Street has agreed to help sponsor another Congressional trip there.

While Cong. Pocan noted the Israeli government’s obstacles to achieving a peaceful resolution, he also noted that Gaza has no effective government and that Palestinian students are dismayed with the Palestinian Authority as it has made no progress in achieving statehood. He mentioned that students at Bir Zeit University recently voted to support Hamas and now support a 1 state solution.

Cong. Pocan will continue to encourage President Obama to set forth the groundwork for peace before he leaves office. He pledges to push the next President to work hard to achieve peace and believes that a multi-national effort is needed. He looks forward to bringing his views to the floor of Congress in September. He believes that real people, not politicians, want peace in both Israel and Palestine and to support those people, he wants the US to support human rights in the region.

In conclusion, Cong. Pocan  made clear that achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the strongest blow back that we can make against ISIS, which uses the Palestinian struggle for statehood as a recruiting tool. As Chair of J Street Madison, I look forward to continuing to work with Cong. Pocan to help his effort to achieve a peaceful 2 state solution.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Weed Harvesting

Though I was an American history major in college, the best class I took was Practical Botany. During that class, I learned the definition of a weed. It is quite simple. Weeds are plants that are in an undesired location. For example, grass growing in your vegetable garden is a weed, even though it is not a weed in your lawn.

Healthy lakes include plant life. In some cases, the plant life is so abundant that it becomes a weed because it interferes with the healthy growth of other species or other desired uses, such as safe boating and swimming.

Goose Lake, where I chair the Watershed District, is a very healthy lake. In fact, it contains designated critical habitats which support a myriad of plant and animal life, as detailed in this report.

Maintaining a healthy balance between sustaining the critical habitat which thrives in Goose Lake, and allowing the lake to be enjoyed by residents and visitors is included within the responsibility of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD). One of our responsibilities is to harvest weeds from the non-critical habitat. A few years ago, we bought a used weed harvester. Since then, we have been able to harvest the weeds as needed instead of depending on the schedule of an unreliable contractor.

However, most people think of weeds as something to pull and get rid of instead of harvest. Given our respect for the environment, we harvest the weeds by transporting those we cut to a nearby organic farmer. The nutrition from the weeds is thereby returned to the earth to grow healthy, organic food.

As you can see, there are a lot of weeds to turn into organic compost. A local homeowner, Fred Mess, has done a marvelous job maintaining our old harvester, including fashioning parts when used parts are no longer available. He volunteers his time to both maintain the harvester and harvest weeds.

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Fred Mess with a full load of weeds, approximately 3500 pounds.

Fred has also trained others to run the harvester as no organization should rely on a single person for a critical task.

Since we also maintain the public beach and boat launch, last weekend while Fred and John were harvesting weeds from the lake, a few of us raked weeds from the beach to make the beach safe and pleasant for swimming.

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Nick Homan raking the beach weeds in order to transport them to an organic farm along with the weeds cut by the harvester.

Harvesting weeds to improve our lake and convert an undesired plant into organic food is a perfect example of environmental systems change. It is also a metaphor for systems change in many other areas of life.

Rather than simply getting rid of things that are undesirable through seclusion and restraint in our schools, or incarceration, the better approach is to use tools such as positive behavioral support and restorative justice as a form of positive harvesting.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Feds Support Positive Behavioral Supports, not Suspensions

On August 1, 2016, the U.S. Dept. of Education (USDOE), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) issued an important 16 page guidance letter informing schools that they must do more to provide positive behavioral supports to children with disabilities, instead of suspending them. The letter decries the fact that in the 2013-14 school year, nationwide 10% of all children with disabilities were suspended for 10 days or less, and that rate rises to 19% for children of color with disabilities. The guidance focuses on short term suspensions because the law gives school districts far more flexibility with suspensions of 10 days or less.

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The guidance letter makes clear that,

Research shows that school-wide, small group, and individual behavioral supports that use proactive and preventative approaches, address the underlying cause of behavior, and reinforce positive behaviors are associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and fewer suspensions and dropouts.

Moreover,

Research shows that implementing evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks can help improve overall school climate, school safety, and academic achievement for all children, including children with disabilities.

Since children who are eligible for special education are legally entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), OSERS makes clear that,

when a child with a disability experiences behavioral challenges, including those that result in suspensions or other exclusionary disciplinary measures, appropriate behavioral supports may be necessary to ensure that the child receives FAPE.

Therefore,

In the same way that an IEP Team would consider a child’s language and communication needs, and include appropriate assistive technology devices or services in the child’s IEP to ensure that the child receives a meaningful educational benefit, so too must the IEP Team consider and, when determined necessary for ensuring FAPE, include or revise behavioral supports in the IEP of a child with a disability exhibiting behavior that impedes his or her learning or that of others.

Of course,

IEPs should contain behavioral supports supported by evidence—IDEA specifically requires that both special education and related services and supplementary aids and services be based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable. As a matter of best practice, we strongly encourage schools to consider how the implementation of behavioral supports within the IEP could be facilitated through a school-wide, multi-tiered behavioral framework.

In many cases, it is not simply a matter of changing disciplinary practice. As OSERS states,

Appropriate supplementary aids and services could include those behavioral supports necessary to enable a child with a disability to be educated in regular classes or the setting determined to be the child’s appropriate placement. Such behavioral supports might include meetings with a behavioral coach, social skills instruction, counselor, or other approaches. In general, placement teams may not place a child with a disability in special classes, separate schooling, or other restrictive settings outside of the regular educational environment solely due to the child’s behavior when behavioral supports through the provision of supplementary aids and services could be provided for that child that would be effective in addressing his or her behavior in the regular education setting.

Program modifications and support for personnel may also be necessary to assure that children with disabilities are receiving the FAPE to which they are entitled.

School personnel may need training, coaching, and tools to appropriately address the behavioral needs of a particular child.

Fortunately, the federal guidance also includes resources, such for classroom strategies, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports Implementation and Self-Assessmentand a School Discipline Guidance Package.

The guidance identifies seven specific ways which may indicate that there has been either a procedural or substantive failure in the development, review or revision of a child’s IEP, including:

  • The IEP Team did not consider the inclusion of positive behavioral interventions and supports in response to behavior that impeded the child’s learning or that of others;
  • School officials failed to schedule an IEP Team meeting to review the IEP to address behavioral concerns after a reasonable parental request;
  • The IEP Team failed to discuss the parent’s concerns about the child’s behavior, and its effects on the child’s learning, during an IEP Team meeting;
  • There are no behavioral supports in the child’s IEP, even when the IEP Team determines they are necessary for the child;
  • The behavioral supports in the IEP are inappropriate for the child (e.g., the frequency, scope or duration of the behavioral supports is insufficient to prevent behaviors that impede the learning of the child or others; or consistent application of the child’s behavioral supports has not accomplished positive changes in behavior, but instead has resulted in behavior that continues to impede, or further impedes, learning for the child or others);
  • The behavioral supports in the child’s IEP are appropriate, but are not being implemented or not being properly implemented (e.g., teachers are not trained in classroom management responses or de-escalation techniques or those techniques are not being consistently implemented); or
  • School personnel have implemented behavioral supports not included in the IEP that are not appropriate for the child.

A child’s IEP may not be reasonably calculated to provide a meaningful educational benefit if:

  • The child is displaying a pattern of behaviors that impede his or her learning or that of others and is not receiving any behavioral supports;
  • The child experiences a series of disciplinary removals from the current placement of 10 days or fewer (which do not constitute a disciplinary change in placement) for separate incidents of misconduct that impede the child’s learning or that of others, and the need for behavioral supports is not considered or addressed by the IEP Team; or
  • The child experiences a lack of expected progress toward the annual goals that is related to his or her disciplinary removals or the lack of behavioral supports, and the child’s IEP is neither reviewed nor revised.

To avoid confusion, the federal guidance also makes clear that disciplinary removals are not limited to formal suspensions. They also include:

  • A pattern of office referrals, extended time excluded from instruction (e.g., time out), or extended restrictions in privileges;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school on “administrative leave” or a “day off” or other method of sending the child home from school;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school with a condition for return, such as a risk assessment or psychological evaluation; or
  • Regularly requiring children to leave the school early and miss instructional time (e.g., via shortened school days).

Inappropriate discipline without behavioral supports can impact the child’s right to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate for the child, as the guidance points out.

Circumstances that may indicate that the child’s placement in the LRE may not be appropriate include, but are not limited to, a scenario in which a continuum of placements that provides behavioral supports is not made available (e.g., behavioral supports not provided in the regular educational setting), and, as a result, the IEP inappropriately calls for the child to be placed in special classes, separate schooling, or another restrictive placement outside the regular educational environment (e.g., home instruction, home tutoring program, or online learning program).

While harsh disciplinarians may not be pleased with the federal guidance, parents of children with disabilities should be thrilled that the federal government has issued detailed guidance which is designed to ensure that children with disabilities stay in school and receive an appropriate education instead of receiving discipline funneling them into the school to prison pipeline. As an attorney who has represented children with disabilities and their parents in school discipline matters for well over 20 years, this guidance is a welcome tool to correct inappropriately harsh discipline meted out by zero-tolerance educators.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

A Fence to Step Over

Wars are fought over borders. Presidential candidates support absurd border fences. Nations erect walls naively thinking they will somehow ensure their safety. These fences pit people against each other and fuel the fans of hatred and bigotry.

However, sometimes fences serve useful purposes. Responsible dog owners have a fenced backyard to allow their dogs to get some exercise in their backyards, while keeping the dogs out of other backyards and safe from street traffic.

Sometimes fences are really just symbolic. These symbolic fences are not designed to separate people. Rather, they simply demarcate different plots of land.

Last weekend, under the auspices of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD), which I Chair, my friend (and former Chair and Treasurer of the GLWD) Onie Karch, who lives on the other side of Goose Lake from me, and I painted a fence at the beach at Goose Lake, which had recently been repaired. As this picture shows, it is a simple, low, white fence, which simply marks the property line between the private homeowner’s front yard, and the public beach.

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Onie and I spent a couple of hours painting the fence. We could easily step over the fence to paint both sides. John, who lives in the house on the other side of the fence, was unable to help us paint the fence due to recent knee surgery, but he gladly offered us water and was pleased to see the fence being maintained.

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Symbolically separating the beach from private property simply allows the public to enjoy the beach without negatively impacting on the private property owner’s land. Maintaining the beach and the fence has brought praise from both visitors and local residents, some of whom have been kind enough to extend praise for the improved beach to the Town of Jackson Chairman. This type of goodwill will likely encourage the Town of Jackson to help the GLWD improve the road leading to the boat launch to reduce unwanted runoff into the lake.

So, instead of building fences that fuel fear and hatred, policy makers should strategically build fences we can step over, allowing us to build community and make friends with our neighbors and the visitors whom we are glad to welcome into our neighborhood.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Ethics in Journalism 101

The media has often been referred to as the 4th branch of government, serving as an outside force as a further check on the other 3 branches (executive, legislative and judicial). While most political reporting focuses on the executive and legislative branches, that reporting can have a powerful and important role in exposing corrupt or abusive practices by the judiciary. However, due to the power of the media to sway public opinion, it is critical that journalists and their editors publish their work according to the highest ethical standards. As one legal scholar put it, failing to do so results in,

incompetent legal reporting, which fuels the American public’s anti- court sentiment and fosters inaccurate views of the actual workings of the judicial system.

Recently, on July 18th, the Isthmus published an investigative piece on judicial overreach, Was judge pushing anti-gay agenda? It was the first media examination of a troubling case where an appointed county judge treated a same-sex couple horribly in a surrogate parenting case. Fortunately, his decision has been overturned, but the cost to the parents was huge both financially and emotionally.

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Much to my surprise, a full week later, on July 25th, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran virtually the same story on its front page with a huge picture, entitled ‘Activist judge’ compares surrogacy to human traffickingWhile I will leave it to journalism experts to determine if the Journal Sentinel’s article plagiarized the Isthmus’ article, one thing is very clear. The Journal Sentinel published its story acting as if it was breaking news and failed to mention in its lengthy article that the Isthmus had published a very similar article a full week earlier.

To be clear, there is no problem with the Journal Sentinel publishing a follow up story on judicial misconduct. But when it pretends that it broke old news first, it loses journalistic credibility and insults the original author of the Isthmus article. In an era of shrinking print journalism circulation, unethical journalistic behavior such as this only serves to reduce the capacity of the media to act as a credible 4th estate serving as a check on government misconduct. I contacted the reporter and editor at the Journal Sentinel yesterday to ask them for their response to  my concern and to date, I have not received a substantive response.

Systems change requires an effective and credible media. Increasingly, the traditional media has shifted to social media, but that has led to a loss of quality investigative journalism. Reporters and their editors who fail to credit original sources further denigrate the reputation of the media. Moreover, they discourage young journalists from entering the profession if they fear that larger media outlets will pretend that they broke news that smaller outlets broke earlier.

I have spent over 30 years developing good relationships with good journalists. When I work with a journalist, especially on a story that I am giving them an exclusive on, I must trust that they will do a good and ethical job. Good journalists know that if they violate that trust, they will lose their sources for important stories. Violation of trust makes systems change far more difficult. Hopefully, the Journal Sentinel will raise its journalistic standards and publish a credit to the Isthmus for its original story.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Forward Again!

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting with Tim Cullen to learn about his plans for a potential run for Wisconsin Governor in 2018. I have known Tim for over 30 years, first during his initial stint as a State Senator from Janesville, then when he became Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services. He took a break from government service and served as a Vice President for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, during which time I teamed up with other public health advocates to negotiate with him to create a public health foundation with over $600 million which the insurer donated when it converted to a for-profit. Our relationship continued when he returned to the State Senate in 2010. Coincidentally, his season tickets to the University of Wisconsin Badger basketball games are right behind mine, so we regularly catch up with each other at the games.

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I have always been impressed with Tim as a thoughtful man, who is a good listener and seeks to understand and then solve problems. So, after I read the news that Tim was thinking about running for Governor in 2018, I asked him if we could meet to discuss his plans and he quickly agreed.

At this early stage, he is simply meeting with a lot of people around the state to determine if he can garner sufficient support and raise the necessary funds to make a credible run for Governor. Thus far, he has received a lot of positive feedback. It helps that prior to considering a run for Governor he wrote a book entitled, Ringside Seat: Wisconsin Politics, the 1970s to Scott Walker, which is part political history, and part memoir, with a significant dose of critique of the politics of divisiveness that Scott Walker has wreaked on the State of Wisconsin since his election in 2010, fomenting the politics of resentment causing the decimation of state government, public schools and Wisconsin’s economy. He has traveled the state on a book tour and learned a lot from average Wisconsinites about how Scott Walker tore apart a state that was once known for being nice. Knowing how important it is to rebuild the ranks of public school teachers decimated by Scott Walker, with a diverse group of new teachers, he donates the profits of his book to the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Opportunities Scholarship, which has already benefited many young high school graduates of color.

Recently, he starred, alongside former State Sen. Dale Schultz in an excellent video, Whatever Happened to Wisconsin Nice? In the video, both former Senators–one Democrat and one Republican, lament the divisiveness that Wisconsin’s political system has degraded into, and talk with regular Wisconsinites about how to heal that rift.

Our conversation started by Tim letting me know that he has already lived far longer than he ever expected. His father died from heart failure at the age of 63, and Tim never expected to live longer than his father. Indeed, Tim had the same heart problem as his father, but fortunately medical technology has improved and after surgery, his heart is fine. Fourteen years ago, he successfully battled cancer, and he has come through that stronger than ever.

From a political standpoint, it was Bernie Sanders’ run for President that convinced Tim that it was possible for him to make a similar run for Governor. Sanders demonstrated that an older candidate with the right message can inspire millions of young people to engage in politics. He also demonstrated that it was possible to raise millions of dollars through small donations, averaging roughly $27.

Tim and I agree that the key to winning the Governor’s race is for him continue to travel around the state and talk to average Wisconsin citizens about the need to move Wisconsin Forward Again.

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Doing so requires rebuilding what Scott Walker and his legislature have decimated for the past 6 years. Tim recognizes that this will not be an easy or quick process. He also understands that it will require a different kind of leader, one who understands consensus driven leadership and governs by forming Blue Ribbon Commissions to learn from Wisconsin’s best and brightest as to how to move Wisconsin Forward Again. Fortunately, one thing that can be done quickly, is to reverse Scott Walker’s costly decision to refuse federal funding to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, which is projected to cost Wisconsin $678.6 million through the 2017 fiscal year. Tim promises to reverse that decision on his first day in office, if elected as Wisconsin’s next Governor.

Tim also understands the need to end the gerrymandering that has resulted in Democratic legislators receiving far more votes than Republicans but nevertheless only winning a minority of legislative seats. Tim has been a key player in the lawsuit currently challenging what has been dubbed the worst gerrymandering in the nation.

State Assembly MapFinally, while Tim believes his age should not be an impediment to a successful run for Governor, he also understands that he needs to help raise the profile of a promising group of young progressive women politicians, such as Mandy Wright who is running to regain the Assembly seat she lost due to gerrymandering. He believes a successful run for Governor will include a strong young woman candidate for Lieutenant Governor running with him, ensuring continuity of progressive policies after he is done serving our state.

Of course, the Governor’s race will not start in earnest until after this November’s Presidential election. But Tim Cullen is wise to start early. He is willing to talk to just about anyone to find out how he can help move Wisconsin Forward Again.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.