For the record

My comments before the House education committee on Tuesday, May 1.

Good evening. My name is Mike Matthews and I’m a special education teacher in the Red Clay School District. I work in what’s called a resource room. I work with students who require a substantial amount of services.. These are students who, in some instances, are later referred to intensive learning centers when my setting isn’t working for them.

I work with students who are classified as educable mentally disabled. These are students who have extreme learning disabilities who require such a high level of differentiation and individual attention that placing them in the general education classroom would likely do a disservice to both the below-level and on-level students.

I work with students who are classified with other health impairments. These are students who perhaps come to me with severe emotional issues or health issues that have impaired their learning ability to such an extent that the general education environment is inappropriate. These are students with seizures who’ve regressed so poorly that a pull-out setting is required. These are students with severe audio, visual, and spatial sensitivities for whom structure is required and anything out of those norms could prove disastrous.

I work with a group of students — exceptional students — who require an exceptional amount of services. Sadly, the learning disabilities most of these children face means they likely won’t pass a single DCAS test in their life — unless perhaps by chance. Some of my students really like to press those buttons!

I work in a situation where I have little control over the students who come to me every year. I have no problem with this, though. What irks me, though, is the continued COMPARISON at the state level of charter schools versus traditional public schools. Charter schools that have been labeled “superior” versus my school that is now labeled “academic watch.” What I object to are the COMPARISONS made that allow for these offensive labels of our schools when they do NOTHING AT ALL to detail the nuances and complexities we are dealing with at schools like mine. Do NOT stack my school up against a charter school that has rigorous admissions standards and lotteries that qualify potential entrants based on geographic — and by default socioeconomic — parameters. Do NOT stack my school up against a charter school that requires active parent involvement. Do NOT stack my school up against a charter school that has the ability to remove repeat offenders with utter ease.

It doesn’t offend me that charter schools exist or that many want to send their students to charter schools. And though some may choose to characterize my membership in a union as one antagonistic to charter schools, let me say there’s nothing further from the truth.

It is not the charter schools themselves with which I have a problem. It is the continued comparisons to traditional public schools. Comparisons that, as we speak, are tearing apart school communities, in particular with the near-fraud that is PZ schools. A near-fraud that does LITTLE to address the social ills in so many of our schools that the PZ process seeks to remedy.

Charter schools? Sure. But don’t for one second think more charter schools are an answer to the problems that few charters today are actually facing.

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DoE considers the law, backs off of NCS expansion — for now

I am employed by the State of Delaware in the Red Clay Consolidated School District. I have no fear of repercussions because of my frequent speaking out regarding educational issues affecting Delaware today. People who know me realize I tend to get passionate about many topics, but always wish for my debate to be respectful and conducive to a positive environment. That being said, I will very pointedly point out errors, inconsistencies, illogicality, or outright lies when I see them committed by either a local school district or the bigger Department of Education as a whole.

And today’s news that the vote on Newark Charter School’s expansion into high school has been put on hold is good news. Up until yesterday, many thought the expansion was a sure thing. Even though the arguments questioning the expansion were quite voluminous, it seemed the State Board of Education would simply ignore those concerns and issue their expansion approval post haste. Well, not so fast. It seems the ACLU’s letter yesterday detailing the school’s non-compliance with federal law as it relates to the free- and reduced-lunch program may have caused some folks at DoE and on the State Board of Education a moment of pause.

What disturbs me most about all this, though, is the seemingly insane cult of personality around the school’s leader, Mr. Greg Meece. He seems to hold some bizarre sway over the parents of that school. Check out this Delaware Liberal post courtesy of Pandora.

Meece says he got the heads up from [DoE Sec. Lillian] Lowery early this morning and he then passed this info onto NCS parents.  Which means if you were a recipient of an email from Mr. Meece, then you knew the outcome of the public meeting before, ya know, the public.  I feel bad for those people who took time out of their day to attend a meeting whose outcome was already announced to a chosen few.  Hell, why even bother with public meetings!

Not to mention Meece has shared with parents complete fabrications about DSEA robocalls to its members asking them to stack last week’s public hearing on expansion. No such robocalls ever were sent out. Ever. Just more anti-union flame-stoking courtesy of Mr. Meece. Meece likes to share lots with his parents, it seems. A little too much. And a little too little of the truth.

It may have taken a decade, but I suppose later is better than never to finally begin the process of evening out just what is happening at Newark Charter School.

Newark Charter in violation of law? Probably.

Head on over to the inimitable (and invaluable) Kilroy’s Delaware and read a copy of a letter from the ACLU to the State Department of Education regarding Newark Charter School’s expansion request to grades 9-12. Funny. The ACLU perfectly — and more eloquently — captures exactly what many of us have been saying for weeks: It’s abundantly clear that Newark Charter School is operating outside of current charter school law. By granting Newark Charter’s request for expansion, the State Department of Education is absolutely co-signing on this continued law breaking.

So, what law is the school breaking? Oh just the one that says the school has to comply with the “legal requirement of providing free and reduced lunch to students eligible under the applicable state and federal laws.” In NCS’s original charter application years ago, the school said it would meet those federal and state requirements by contracting with a provider like Aramark. It seems that was a short-lived affair.

What fascinates me most, though, is DoE’s continued renewal of NCS’s charter application TWICE even though they failed during both renewals to show they were following the above law. In 2004, NCS claimed keeping the free and reduced lunch program was “no longer viable,” so they told the state they’d go with outside vendors “such as McDonald’s” to fill the requirement. McDonald’s meals, though, don’t meet the federal requirement. I guess McNuggets, fries, and Shamrock Shakes don’t constitute a balanced meal. Oh, and the fact that the 2004 renewal application claimed the school doesn’t have a cafeteria didn’t arouse some suspicions among the folk at DoE?

In its next renewal application in 2008, NCS proposed no changes in its provision of meals. Lovely. No argument from DoE, apparently.

So, what we have here is a school violating the law. It’s quite explicit. The school is violating the law. As a consequence of its violation of the law, they’re leaving out a large group of children who should be eligible, but perhaps don’t sign on because of the lack of free and reduced lunch.

Here’s what I want to know: Considering there MUST have been individuals within the school’s five-mile-radius attendance zone that would absolutely qualify for free and reduced lunch, what was the process for explaining this lack of a cafeteria…this lack of food services…this LACK OF FREE AND REDUCED LUNCH to the potential incoming families?

You see where I’m going with this? I’d like to know who knew what and who knew it when. When were these families told and were they made aware of the law requiring the school to provide these services?

The deal is done. From what I’ve heard, NCS’s charter expansion will be approved. Good for them. But they must be called to task for this absolutely outrageous violation of the law that has gone on for 11 years.