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.