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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Breaking News: New Massachusetts Special Education Law Firm Launched

From the

October 15, 2018

Three prominent Massachusetts special education attorneys with decades of collective experience at the highest levels of professional practice recently joined together in a new partnership. Partners Michelle Moor, Daniel Perlman and Sherry Gregg have opened Moor, Perlman & Gregg, LLC, a law firm focused exclusively on special education law and student disability rights.

Michelle Moor is a graduate of Vassar College and Northeastern University School of Law. Before opening this practice, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, worked as a litigation associate for a large international law firm, and practiced for several years in the disability and special education law group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston. She has been named as a Rising Star among attorneys in Massachusetts by Super Lawyers.

Her practice is devoted entirely to working with families to ensure that students in Massachusetts receive the educational services to which they are entitled.

Daniel Perlman has committed his entire legal career to helping families who have children with special needs. He previously served as the case law attorney for Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC), one of the first educational advocacy organizations for children in the nation. Since then, he has represented and counseled families of children with special needs from across the state.

Attorney Perlman is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law and the University of Massachusetts, where he graduated magna cum laude. He has been named as a Rising Star among attorneys in Massachusetts by Super Lawyers.

Sherry Rajaniemi-Gregg has more than a decade of experience in special education law on behalf of parents and their children, including vast litigation experience in state and federal courts with federal civil rights violations committed by public school districts as a result of students’ abuse by school personnel or peers, including bullying, harassment, or hazing.

Gregg possesses extensive experience in special education law, having practiced for many years in the Special Education & Disability Rights Law group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston. She initially trained as a child and family therapist, and is a graduate of Boston University School of Law. She has been named as a Rising Star among attorneys in Massachusetts by Super Lawyers.

Associate Kaitlyn Millerick is a graduate of Brandeis University, and earned her law degree at Northeastern University School of Law. In law school, Kaitlyn clerked for Judge Gorton at the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts and interned at The Disability Law Center, the state’s Protection and Advocacy agency, where she frequently handled special education-related disputes.

Prior to joining Moor, Perlman & Gregg, Millerick worked at a boutique litigation firm, and served on the pro bono legal panel for Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC).

Moor, Perlman & Gregg, LLC, Attorneys at Law

42 Davis Road, Suite 1-1, Acton, MA 01720
35 Village Road, Suite 100, Middleton, MA 01949

Phone: (978) 274-7101
Fax: (978) 451-4434

Four Ways That Students and Families are Getting Lost in an Avalanche of Confusing Information from Their Schools

From The 74 Million

By David Keeling
October 14, 2018

"We have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want the best for his or her child, and we’ve seen that parents engage quickly and assertively when they become fully aware of a problem."

There’s no shortage of evidence that America’s public schools aren’t working as well as they should for all families. Beyond the shamefully persistent gaps in educational opportunity and achievement that divide students of different races and more- and less-privileged backgrounds, there’s the fact that, despite plenty of advantages, American kids are not keeping up with their international peers in general.

Why is this happening?

Over the years, education leaders and policymakers have pointed to a wide range of culprits, from mushy learning standards and poor teacher training to inadequate school funding and high class sizes.

Here’s another to add to the list, one that doesn’t get much attention but should: confusing information about how students are actually doing in school.

In New Orleans and Boston, where our organization provides direct, hands-on educational support to hundreds of working parents, we have observed that the entire process of communicating the progress of individual students to their families is a mess.

Parents have access to more information about students than ever, yet the avalanche of data has become its own problem. Parents get lost among individual fragments of data that are difficult to interpret and tell divergent stories about student performance.

This incoherence makes it easy for families to overestimate the performance of their children, to miss warning signs of major problems and to pass up learning opportunities that have the power to reshape a child’s basic educational trajectory.

Here are four major ways we see this problem manifest itself for families:

1.) Report cards are ridiculously confusing.

When we began supporting one New Orleans mom working as a housekeeper in a downtown hotel, she shared her son’s report card, which showed a string of performance ratings like “AB” and “B.” She naturally assumed those ratings were positive — As and Bs.

In fact, they stood for terms like “Approaching Basic.” Her son was struggling in school, but you wouldn’t know it without reading the fine print.

Given that report cards serve as the official record of each student’s educational progress and the primary way schools communicate about student performance, you’d think that schools would invest a huge amount of time and energy to get them right — to ensure they are crystal clear, accurate, parent-friendly, and oriented toward specific actions that students, parents, and teachers all need to take to ensure each student’s success.

But you’d be wrong.

Every day we see report cards full of baffling codes and acronyms that are incomprehensible to parents, with little explanation or analysis.

2.) Information comes in bits and pieces, not as a complete picture.

Alongside report cards, parents are getting a constant stream of data from reading assessments, state tests, end-of-course exams and graded student work. The results are scored in different ways and require different kinds of interpretation, and they sometimes conflict with whatever story the student’s official grades tell, as was the case with Amalia, a seventh-grader outside New Orleans who earns straight As, yet has scored below grade level on most state tests for the past three years.

It’s on parents to sort through all the data and figure out what it means and which sources to trust; rarely does anyone help them with that analysis, explain the discrepancies, or offer the big-picture perspective. When in doubt, parents tend to focus on the most positive data point and disregard the others — which means results that should be bright red warning lights get lost or overlooked.

3.) Sometimes, schools literally speak a different language.

One report card we saw recently included a series of terse comments like “student is in danger of failing.” For any parent, this would be alarming. But there was one big problem for the mom who shared it with us: She spoke only Spanish, and the report card was entirely in English.

According to federal law, schools must communicate all key information to parents whose English is limited in a language they can understand. And this family was far from the only non-English-speaking family at her school, where over 40 percent of all students are English learners. Did none of them get report cards in Spanish?

How are their parents supposed to understand what’s going on, support their child’s education, or interact with teachers when they face such a fundamental language barrier?

4.) Bad news tends to be sugarcoated.

Many schools have adopted terminology like “progressing” to describe student progress in lieu of traditional grades or ratings. But these terms also can be a way to evade communicating the news that a student is struggling. After all, what happens if a student ends the school year “progressing” in a subject or skill? Isn’t that another way to say he or she has not learned it?

This tendency to play down difficult situations extends to parent-teacher conferences and other interactions, where teachers tend to sugarcoat problems and use coded language that a parent may not realize indicates a problem.

For instance, when a teacher says, “Michael is really trying hard,” the true message may actually be “Michael is not doing well in class, but he is compliant and does his work.” But the parent hears, “My son is working hard in school and will be OK.”

Why should we care about all this? Because confusing information makes it all but impossible for parents to engage in their child’s education effectively or understand how to respond when problems arise.

We have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want the best for his or her child, and we’ve seen that parents engage quickly and assertively when they become fully aware of a problem.

Among parents who are balancing the never-ending demands of work and family obligations while trying to stay on top of what’s happening at school, however, the most common reaction to confusing or mixed messages is not to assume something is wrong and try to get clarity, but to trust that someone will say something if there’s a serious issue and hope for the best.

Sadly, most of the time, nobody does, and the best never comes.

David Keeling is a founding partner of EdNavigator, a nonprofit organization that connects busy families with personal education advisers who help them find a path to success in school and beyond. This essay was produced in partnership with Carnegie Corporation of New York, which provides financial support to The 74.

Suspending Little Kids Can Do More Harm than Good

From the University of Michigan

September 14, 2018

When schools suspend kindergartners and first-graders, some find it a challenge to turn things around in their academic life, a new study shows.

Further, these young suspended students—especially boys—are likely to be suspended again later in elementary school, says Zibei Chen, a research fellow at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

Schools often use suspensions to discipline students, but how effective suspension can be in addressing future behavior problems and the impact on academic progress is unclear. When a solution isn’t found, students may be tempted to drop out.

“Not only are children who are suspended at a young age missing out on time spent in early learning experiences, but they are also less likely to be referred to services and supports they need to thrive in later school years,” Chen says.

Among the findings:

  • Boys teachers rated as aggressive, defiant, and disruptive are more likely to be suspended than girls. They are also less engaged in school.
  • Girls teachers rated as disruptive and lacking in parental school involvement are more likely to be suspended.
  • Significant predictors of suspension in kindergarten and first grade also predicted suspension one and three years later.
  • Boys and African-American students are more likely to be suspended than girls and white and Hispanic students, respectively, the study reports.

The findings show that black students experience disproportionate suspensions, but these incidents are not always straightforward, says lead author Mi-Youn Yang, an assistant professor of social work at Louisiana State University.

Sometimes, teachers who report these behavioral issues may hold implicit racial biases and not issue the same penalties to white students, she says.

To conduct the study, which appears in Children and Youth Services Review, the researchers used data from an initiative of the Social Research and Evaluation Center at the LSU College of Human Sciences and Education.

Original Study DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2018.08.008

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

How to Help Kids Manage Sleep, Schoolwork and Screens

From KQED's Blog "Mind/Shift"
How we will learn.

October 6, 2018

KJ Dell’Antonia — the former lead editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog — writes about “how to create the best possible family life we can with the hand we’ve been dealt” in her book, How to Be a Happier Parent.

According to her research and lived experience, happier parenting often involves reframing our expectations and approach to the tough spots of family life. From chores to sibling relationships, she recommends first changing how we think about those issues and then change what can be done.

For example, how do we change how we think about sleep?

Abundant research confirms that lack of sleep can have cascading consequences – from poor mental health to emotional reactivity to impaired cognition.

A parent’s instinct might be to either attempt to impose sleep rules or take a completely hands-off approach. But a third way, said Dell’Antonia, is engaging teens in the why and then letting them manage the how for themselves.

Instead of focusing on the consequences of sleep deprivation, identify the sleep benefits that will be most appealing to your child – from increasing their speed as an athlete to performing better in school. After all, the teenage brain is more motivated by the possibility of pleasure than by the fear of pain.

“If you teach your kids why sleep is important and what it can do for them, they can genuinely want and learn to change,” said Dell’Antonia.

Parents can model this mental shift; “Don’t talk about it as ‘you have to go to sleep’ – it’s not a bad place to go! You ‘get to go to sleep.’ In fact, your morning self is begging you to go to sleep right now.

”Making healthy family sleep habits a reality might involve rethinking schedule – or overscheduling. For kids in multiple afterschool activities, after dinner marks the moment “you finally get free of other people telling you what to do,” said Dell’Antonia.

“If they are of the mindset that they don’t get any free time, some of those afternoon activities might need to go. It might be too much. You can’t have better mornings without significant shifts in days and evenings.”

Judge in Vaccine Case Faces Threats, Calls for 'Painful Death'

From the USA Today Network

By John Wisely
Detroit Free Press

October 31, 2017

DETROITA Michigan judge is facing online harassment, including calls for her to "die a painful death," for her handling of two controversial cases involving divorced parents who disagree about vaccines.

Judge Karen McDonald
Circuit Judge Karen McDonald has drawn the online ire of vaccine critics, upset with her decision to order a 9-year-old boy immunized over the objections of his mother.

In a separate case, McDonald questioned the qualifications of a witness brought in to argue vaccines are harmful.

Some of the videos online called for McDonald's execution. Another said "time to kill the judge" and one said it's "time to put a bullet" in that judge's head.

More: Michigan mom jailed over vaccine refusal: Don't give my son more shots

One YouTube user posted a 41-second video titled "Why Judge Karen McDonald must die a painful death."

The video poster refers to McDonald as a judge in California, perhaps confusing Oakland County, Michigan with the city of Oakland, California

Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe said the posts are offensive but don't appear to rise to the level of a criminal threat.

"We had the computer crimes unit look at it," said McCabe. "We met with the prosecutors and determined jointly that there is no crime. There are definitely offensive posts, but not every offensive post is a crime."

Oakland County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Paul Walton said the U.S. Supreme Court has narrowly defined what kind of messages constitute a threat.

"A true threat is the communication of a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence against a particular individual or group of individuals," Walton said.

The online hopes for her death don't meet that legal standard, Walton said. If new, more specific threats were made, detectives and prosecutors can revisit them, he said.

More: Jailed mom 'devastated' to learn son was vaccinated

McDonald said through a staffer that the postings caused unnecessary stress not only for her, but for her staff and her family, adding that she wouldn't be deterred.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to do what I was elected to do and make decisions based on what is in the best interests of children," said McDonald. "I'm going to do it after I listen to the facts and hear both sides. The fact that judges have to endure threats of physical violence via social media with virtually no protection or recourse is another matter and one that needs to be addressed."

Two Vaccine Cases

Earlier this month, McDonald sent Rebecca Bredow to jail for ignoring a court order to vaccinate her 9-year-old son. Court pleadings show that Bredow agreed months ago to the vaccinations. But her current attorney, Clarence Dass, said those pleadings were filed in error by a lawyer who no longer represents her.

Rebecca Bredow, 40, of Ferndale, Michigan served five days in
jail for refusing a judge's order to vaccinate her 9-year-old son.
(Photo: John Wisely, Detroit Free Press)

Bredow emerged from a 5-day jail stint to learn that her son had been vaccinated while in custody of his father. She's asking McDonald to halt any additional vaccines.

In the second case, another divorced mother, Lori Matheson, doesn't want her 2-year-old daughter immunized. But Matheson's ex-husband, Michael Schmitt, does.

Matheson testified about her religious and personal objections to vaccines and later called Dr. Toni Lynn Bark, an Evanston, Illinois doctor as a witness to argue against vaccinations.

Bark testified that she's practiced in pediatrics, emergency medicine and adversonomics, the study of adverse reactions to vaccines. McDonald seemed skeptical and refused to consider Bark a vaccine expert, though she allowed her to testify about the things she's done in her own practice.

Matheson is asking McDonald to delay any vaccinations until she can conduct genetic testing to see if her daughter is predisposed to adverse reactions to vaccines.

Vaccine Controversy

Public health professionals overwhelmingly champion vaccines as a prevention tool that has saved millions of lives.

"Vaccines have reduced — and in some cases eliminated — many diseases that killed or severely disabled people in previous generations," Robert Wheaton, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said earlier this month. "Vaccines are safe, effective and benefit everyone."

A 2011 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine reviewed more than 1,000 research articles on the topic and concluded that "few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines" and that "the evidence shows there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including Type 1 diabetes and autism."

The report acknowledged that "vaccines are not free from side effects, 'or adverse effects,' but most are very rare or very mild."

Monday, October 15, 2018

Secondary Traumatic Stress for Educators: Understanding and Mitigating the Effects

From KQED's Blog "Mind/Shift"
How we will learn.

By Jessica Lander
October 7, 2018

Roughly half of American school children have experienced at least some form of trauma — from neglect, to abuse, to violence. In response, educators often find themselves having to take on the role of counselors, supporting the emotional healing of their students, not just their academic growth.

With this evolving role comes an increasing need to understand and address the ways in which student trauma affects our education professionals.

In a growing number of professions, including firefighters, law enforcement, trauma doctors and nurses, child welfare workers, and therapists and case managers, it is now understood that working with people in trauma — hearing their stories of hardship and supporting their recovery — has far-reaching emotional effect on the provider.

The condition has numerous names: secondary traumatic stress (STS), vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue.

The symptoms are similar in some ways to post-traumatic stress disorder: withdrawing from friends and family; feeling unexplainably irritable or angry or numb; inability to focus; blaming others; feeling hopeless or isolated or guilty about not doing enough; struggling to concentrate; being unable to sleep; overeating or not eating enough; and continually and persistently worrying about students, when they’re at home and even in their sleep.

But while STS is now well understood in many helping professions, there is a dearth of research, understanding, or acknowledgement of how it affects educators, according to Stephen P. Hydon, a clinical professor at the University of Southern California. One of the handful of studies of STS in schools found that more than 200 staff surveyed from across six schools reported very high levels of STS.

Teachers, counselors and administrators may recognize the cumulative stressors that they face, but they don't always realize that their symptoms are a common reaction to working with traumatized children — and that these symptoms have a name.

STS can affect teachers’ happiness, health and professional practice. But Betsy McAlister Groves, a clinical social worker and former faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says that she has often been surprised by the number of teachers, school counselors and administrators who recognized the cumulative stressors that they faced in their schools but did not realize that their symptoms were a common reaction to working with traumatized children — and that these symptoms had a name.

For the success of their students and the health and success of their educators, it is essential for schools to acknowledge, appreciate, and address the reality and impact of STS head on.

How Schools Can Acknowledge Secondary Trauma

Building a Culture of Awareness

The very acknowledgement by school leaders that teachers might be experiencing STS is a step in the right direction. Too often, teachers feel that they are working alone. For teachers experiencing STS, this can be particularly dangerous, as it can easily exacerbate feelings of being overwhelmed, isolated and hopeless.

School leadership should consider ways to appreciate staff both publicly and privately — not just by recognizing great work, but also by acknowledging that the work is difficult. Schools should connect school staff who might be experiencing STS with resources and make clear that symptoms are not a sign of weakness, but an indicator that they might need support because they work in an challenging profession.

Create Peer Groups

We know that ensuring that teachers have dedicated time to work together — to build curriculum, share lesson ideas and strategize about how best to support individual students — often results in improved academic success of students. Peer groups can be equally effective when trying to address the mental health of educators.

Peer support groups are an effective strategy to combat STS in other helping professions. Schools should replicate this practice, creating a regular space (maybe once a month, or even once a week) where teachers can come together to check in with each other about how they are doing emotionally.

If possible, these meetings should be supported by a mental health professional, and teachers should get to share their experiences, learn strategies for understanding their stress responses, and gain skills to cope with STS.

Trauma-Informed Schools

School leaders should take a school-wide approach. There is a growing movement around creating trauma-informed schools — schools that recognize and are prepared to support community members affected by trauma and traumatic stress. Such schools deeply integrate social-emotional learning into their teaching, culture and approach, understanding that the holistic health and wellbeing of their charges is essential for achieving academic success.

To do this, trauma-informed schools focus on fostering a supportive caring culture, training their entire staff to recognize and support students suffering trauma.

While centered on supporting the emotional care and wellbeing of students, trauma-informed schools, by their nature, foster communities where educators have the understanding and tools to recognize and address STS in themselves and each other.

Resources for Teachers and Schools

  • Assess how your work as an educator might be affecting you (both positively and negatively) by using the Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) self-assessment tool and exploring the toolkit created by Teaching Tolerance to learn self-care strategies.
  • Learn how, as an educator, you can begin to identify secondary traumatic stress and learn strategies for self care through the tip sheet created by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
  • Learn about additional individual and organization strategies for addressing secondary traumatic stress, compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Stay tuned for a new online curriculum for preK–12 teachers, named STAT (Support for Teachers Affected by Trauma), being created by experts in the fields of secondary traumatic stress, education, and technology. The curriculum, due for a 2019 launch, will feature five modules on risk factors, the impact of STS, and self-assessment, among related topics.

Jessica Lander, a high school teacher and a 2015 graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, writes about education for Usable Knowledge, the Boston Globe, and other outlets. This post originally appeared in Usable Knowledge, which translates education research and well-tested practices so they're accessible to practitioners, policymakers, and parents.

With Karen Mapp and Ilene Carver, she is a co-author of Powerful Partnerships: A Teacher’s Guide to Engaging Families for Student Success. Follow her on Twitter at @jessica_lander.

Democratic Senators Call for Investigation into Virtual Charter Schools

From the Huffington Post

By Rebecca Klein
October 10, 2018

Senators say they have questions about student performance and fiscal transparency in the online school systems.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is joining with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
in calling for a more comprehensive look at how virtual charter
schools operate. (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

Two Democratic senators asked Wednesday for the Government Accountability Office to launch an investigation into the practices and policies of virtual charter schools.

The request comes on the same day the Center for American Progress released a report outlining stark academic shortcomings at these schools and a disproportionate focus on profit over quality.

The virtual charter schools have come under scrutiny in states including California and Ohio. But now Democratic Senators Patty Murray (Washington) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) are calling for a more comprehensive look at how these schools work in the 27 states that house them. About 300,000 students attend these online public schools of choice. The enrollment has been steadily increasing over the years.

“There is almost no research on whether virtual charter schools meet student needs, especially for students who require specific accommodations, including English learners and students with disabilities,” says the letter from the senators.

Brown and Murray are asking the GAO to shed light on issues surrounding student outcomes, school funding and spending, rigor of academic courses, recruitment tactics and the relationship between enrollment growth and student performance.

The new report from the liberal Center for American Progress is providing a critical look at these schools. It looked at both for-profit virtual charter schools and virtual charter schools that are managed by for-profit companies, focusing on companies like K-12 Inc. and Connections Education.

K-12 Inc. has strong ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who had invested in the company and has championed its brand of school choice. But researchers, who looked at five states in the report, say that students at virtual charter schools are suffering poor academic outcomes while company executives get rich.

There is almost no research on whether virtual charter schools meet student needs.
-- Senators Patty Murray and Sherrod Brown

In 2017, for example, Idaho Virtual Academy, an online school with connections to K12 Inc., had a 44 percent graduation rate, compared with the state’s 80 percent graduation rate. While leaders connected to virtual schools often stress that they typically serve severely economically distressed children, the students attending Idaho Virtual Academy did not appear to be significantly poorer than those in the state at-large, according to the report.

Representatives of K12 Inc. were not provided with a copy of the report prior to its publication, but they emphasized that the students they serve often come to their school already behind. K12 Inc. is the largest for-profit virtual school company in the country.

“When [students] get to us, they’re not going to graduate with their normal class because they weren’t going to graduate with their class at the school they came from,” K-12 CEO Nate Davis told HuffPost by phone. “We have to remediate them.”

In a statement, Davis criticized the report for attacking the virtual school model rather than trying to “understand why parents are choosing online charter schools and how to best address students’ needs.”

The Center for American Progress report also criticizes these schools’ use of public dollars. Unlike traditional public schools, these institutions are designed to turn a profit, which means they place a disproportionate emphasis on recruiting new students. Financial records indicate that K12 Inc. spends over $30 million on marketing and advertising to recruit students, according to the report.

Top company executives can also earn millions of dollars. Executives are eligible for lucrative bonuses so long as less than 10 percent of K-12 Inc. schools are in jeopardy of closure.

Indeed, Davis told HuffPost that “schools’ ability to meet academic performance and stay open” is a measure that has been used in determining executive compensation. In the past, state proficiency scores have also been used as a measure.

Representatives of Connections Education noted that its own recent report had different results than CAP’s analysis. It found that its students performed similarly to those in schools with highly mobile populations.

But Meg Benner, author of the CAP report, said she hopes that for-profit charter schools start to receive more scrutiny, as do for-profit colleges.

“Overall the research is clear: The academic progress of for-profit charter schools, and online ones in particular, are really abysmal,” Benner said.