School Board Recap - September 19, 2016

Highlights

Public Comments

Candice Lucas, an advocate for Coordinating Early Intervention Services (CEIS), an organization whose mission is to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline, chastised the School Board for being in violation of the codes that protect students with special needs. She cited an incident in which there were no dictionaries for special needs classrooms and stated that it was “unacceptable” for the school system to not have the funding for a hundred and twenty-five dictionaries that could easily be obtained from the dollar store. She criticized RPS’s attorney for not only being unaware of CIEC, but also from being unlearned in the law. CIEC held a meeting in which no Board members and only eight parents attended due to a lack of communication and information about the program. She also criticized the school system for charging parents six hundred dollars just to parents of students with IEPs to view their child’s records. “That is like a poll tax!” Ms. Lucas exclaimed. Richmond’s schools being out of compliance with code has resulted in rampant violations in the district. “Our children are suffering…unequivocally suffering,” Ms. Lucas said. “This Board needs to take leadership and fight for our students without a voice.” She also indicated that Dr. Boyd’s incompetence was unacceptable and that she should be terminated from her position in the Special Education Department.

The President of the Richmond Education Foundation came forward to comment on the progress “or lack thereof” of Richmond’s public schools. “We can agree that our students need the best education possible,” she began. “Change must be change embraced by all participants in the system.” She explained the issues taking place in the schools: teachers spending their own money on materials, children being over-tested, support staff being under paid, and parents being excluded from the processes. The President of the Richmond Education Foundation entreated the School Board to set goals and get a clear vision of the changes that need to take place in the schools and then make decision to best achieve those goals and that vision.

An individual stepped forward to promote section 2.1 of a strategic plan he came up with on his own for the schools. “Standards of Experience,” he began. “We know about Standard of Learning, but what about experience?” He began with the following monologue: “Students read about the ocean. Students see pictures of the ocean. Students learn how to spell the word ocean. But what does this mean if students have never seen the ocean for themselves?” He explained how without real world experience, abstract learning is meaningless. “There are so many experiences children need to experience and so many that children deserve to experience.” Two such experiences he cited were taking a trip to Washington, D.C. and riding in a helicopter. He explained how this proposal would make Richmond Public Schools stand out and take on a strong leadership role. He acknowledged, however, that the schools lack even enough funding for field trips, but quickly informed the Board that the outside community would be more than willing and was already enthusiastic about lending the schools support in such a venture. Utilizing after school hours, weekends, and even school breaks could very much make this proposal a reality in Richmond Public Schools.

A parent expressed her disgust with the Board for its lack of feedback and negligence when it comes to responding to her emails concerning her son. She accused the school system of charging her over $1000 dollars for something pertaining to her child’s record and pressing truancy charges on her. “I understand your behavior,” she stated firmly. “You behave this way because no one is holding you accountable!”

Roderick Bullock addressed the School Board about the importance of athletics in the lives of students. He met with Dr. Bedden about an athletic taskforce and suggested that Dr. Bedden get a board of former coaches and community members to form this taskforce. According to Mr. Bullock, Dr. Bedden firmly said, “No.” “Athletics is a driving force for 83% of children,” said Mr. Bullock. “Athletics and academics go hand in hand.” He thanked Mr. Bourne for his contribution of $5000 to athletics, saying, “If we don’t have money we can’t meet the needs of students.” He concluded by telling the Board, “You are not doing what you need to do for these special needs children. You need to do what is right!”

Reverend Carlton Collins came forward to advocate for his grandchild. The school she attends has not listed any contact information for either the teacher or the principal, which prevents him from being able to communicate with those individuals in charge. His asserted that his grandchild was not being properly and was being purposely targeted by school officials as retaliation against him. His granddaughter was allegedly suspended for four days for fighting on the bus. However, the video footage on the bus showed that this incident never occurred. According to Rev. Collins, there were no adults on the bus other than the bus driver, who did not see the incident. Rev. Collins claimed that school officials forged the signature of the bus driver on the report. He accused the school system of protecting administrators rather than the children. “I’m dreading sending this child to school,” he stated. “But I’m going to continue to fight you. I’m not going to let you destroy this child’s life.”

An advocate for a nonprofit organization called the Adult Alternative Program proposed a partnership with Richmond Public Schools. The issue of home problems, such as father absences or reentry, need to be addressed. The advocate proposed a program in which students in grade 11 would be able to learn skills and develop character that will help them in the event that they do not go to college, which would counter the school-to-prison pipeline and prevent a continuation of the cycle of poverty that results from a lack of education and work opportunities.

Brenda Jones, whose daughter is in alternative school, addressed the Board about the policy prohibiting the students from wearing jackets or having umbrellas. “Kids are walking 30 minutes to school getting wet in the rain!” she claimed. She entreated the Board to look at the new conduct book in regards to students with IEPs, asserting that principals do not know the policy. “Everyone needs to be informed,” she stated.

Procedural Matters

The School Board was given a presentation by the Virginia Department of Education from the Assistant Superintendent of Special Education John Eisenberg and Samantha Marsh Collins, followed by questions directed from the School Board to Dr. Boyd.

Mr. Eisenberg spoke about the Department of Education’s new Results-Driven Accountability Plan that aims to improve educational results and outcomes for students with disabilities. The plan emphasizes a balance between compliance and performance. Mr. Eisenberg explained how the Department looked at data from the schools (child count, demographic information, crime and violence reports, due process involvement, CEIS, etc.) and used this date to create a report card for the school district. The performance level on this report card was indicated by colors. Green meant good, yellow meant cautionary, and red meant not so great. “Based on this report, Richmond needs assistance,” Mr. Eisenberg said.

The Compliance aspect of the plan looked at data on long-term suspension and expulsion and the representation of students in special education (which was disproportionate). The Results that the Department examined where graduation and dropout rates, post-school outcomes, CRE placement, preschool settings and outcomes, parent involvement, and more. Based on the evaluation, Ms. Collins listed the following schools among the list of those selected for review.

Amelia Street Preschool

Regional Preschool Learning Center at Maymont

Oak Grove Elementary School

Woodville Elementary School

Henderson Middle School

Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School

Armstrong High School

Thomas Jefferson High School

Lucille M. Brown Elementary School

This list was compiled based on the data collection and evaluation conducted by the Department of Education. This evaluation consisted of desk audits, 114 randomly selected record reviews, focus group interviews with administrators, general education and special education teachers, and parents, and 94 classroom walk-throughs.

Emerging improvements that were noted based on this evaluation were the review process for expulsion of students with disabilities, tiered and research-based intervention at elementary schools, implementing positive behavior recognition, community connection, a human resource coordinator for special education, and the preschool programs. Corrective action planning would improve the restrictiveness of the school environment, graduation and transition, school climate and cultural competence, special education policies, practices, and procedures, and compliance.

When the presentation was over, Dr. Boyd came forward to answer questions of the board. Ms. Pinckney-Epps asked Dr. Boyd about the confidentially of the student records and the list of schools not included, which Dr. Boyd could not fully answer.

Ms. Taylor asked questions about the compliance of administrators and the superintendent, which Dr. Boyd answered to the best of her ability.

Ms. Terrence-Muhammad was not pleased that Dr. Boyd was answering the questions, as she had not given the presentation. “The people who presented the presentation should answer the questions,” she said. “If they (the Department of Education) cannot address the questions in a public setting to this Board, then they should not have given the presentation!” Ms. Terrence-Muhammad expressed that she was unhappy and frustrated. “I am not going to ask questions to the department we are struggling with,” she said, indicating Dr. Boyd.

Ms. Gray asked about the relationship of race/ethnicity with the rate of suspension/expulsion, which Dr. Boyd said was not definable. She then asked about the number of students with emotional disturbance and how they would be handled. Dr. Boyd explained that professional development and new action plans would be used, as the indicators on the school board noted that this area needed improvement.

Ms. Larson asked: “What is the training on manifestation and what changes are we making?” Dr. Boyd replied that it was a multi-fold and ongoing process that would entail working with staff and the Department of Education working with Richmond Public Schools. Ms. Larson responded: “I want to see better training. What is a manifestation and what is not?”Ms. Terrence Muhammad stated that

“This appears to me to be some kind of charade,” that “speaks volume to the lack of collaboration with the VDOE.” said Ms. Terrence-Muhammad’s, whose statement had the support of many of the people attending this meeting.

Ms. Taylor asked Dr. Boyd: “Who conducts the audits?” and “How often are they heard?” Dr. Boyd answered that the timing of the audits depended on the Board. Ms. Taylor submitted a motion to hear an audit report every forty days with all of the data and updated information, which was seconded by Ms. Terrence-Muhammad.

“Why do we need a motion?” asked Mr. Bourne, who expressed his confusion. “I don’t understand the data. I think we need to ask questions of Dr. Boyd and the VDOE for clarity before submitting a motion.”

“People in this audience came here to get clarity but did not get it,” Ms. Terrence-Muhammad stated. “And we proved their point correctly; that we are not transparent. I have a serious problem with that! Parents came specifically here tonight to get answers. It’s on us to show that we are trying to show collaboration, honest, and build trust, but this was foolishness! This mess doesn’t fall on the DOE…it falls on this Board. I have a serious problem with that…and I am going to make it public that I do have a problem with that!”

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