Sunday, July 29, 2012

NEW Executive Order, President Obama launches White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans

On July 26, 2012, the White House released news that President Obama signed an Executive Order launching the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (the Initiative) to significantly improve educational outcomes for African Americans, thereby providing substantial benefits for the whole country.  It intends to ensure equality of access and opportunity to rigorous and well-rounded academic and support services that prepares African Americans for college, a satisfying career, and productive citizenship.

This Executive Order complements the President's White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities Executive Order 13532 of February 26, 2010 and focuses on improving all levels of education to produce a more effective early childhood education through postsecondary and adult education continuum. 

In the Executive Order, President Obama acknowledges that African American men and women have strengthened America even while barriers have been broken down since the 1950s Brown v. Board of Education landmark Supreme Court decision.  Although that civil rights lawsuit transformed the nation's public education system on many fronts, substantial obstacles to equal educational opportunity still remain in  in the system. Whether this Executive Order will have teeth to change embedded dysfunction and racism remains to been seen let alone whether it will receive adequate support and funding.  Arguably, it is a long awaited step.

The Executive Order outlines the education problems Americans face as:

African Americans lack equal access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools, and challenging college-preparatory classes, and they disproportionately experience school discipline and referrals to special education. African American student achievement not only lags behind that of their domestic peers by an average of two grade levels, but also behind students in almost every other developed nation. Over a third of African American students do not graduate from high school on time with a regular high school diploma, and only four percent of African American high school graduates interested in college are college-ready across a range of subjects. An even greater number of African American males do not graduate with a regular high school diploma, and African American males also experience disparate rates of incarceration.

The Executive Order does expresses its mission and function, which basically is to help restore the United States to its role as the global leader in education and to strengthen the Nation by improving educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages.

Objectives of the Initiative include increasing an understanding of the causes of the educational challenges faced by African American students, increasing the percentage of students who enter kindergarten ready for academic success, decrease the disproportionate number of referrals from general education to special education by addressing the root causes of the referrals and eradicating discriminatory referrals (bravo), implementing reform strategies and practices girded in high-level, rigorous course work, strengthening school leadership and effective teachers, reducing dropout rates, increasing college access and success, and more.

The Initiative is housed in the Department of Education and directed by an Executive Director with collaboration among a newly formed Federal Interagency Working Group on Educational Excellence for African Americans (comprised of senior officials from many federal agencies) and a President's Advisory Commission (comprised of 25 appointed members). It is to be funded by the Administration subject to the availability of appropriations and implemented consistent with applicable laws. Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland is chairman of the new Commission.

"A higher education in a twenty-first century cannot be a luxury.  It is a vital necessity that every American should be able to afford," said President Obama.  And afford a college education is something we hope every American can do in this century given the uptick in college tuition and the lackluster success of the No Child Left Behind legislation.

Read the entire Executive Office on the White House website link by clicking here.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Three Stories: African Americans in Due Process Hearings

Special Education Due Process Hearings

Students identified by a school psychologist as disabled are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) according to the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA).  In addition to regular or general education, FAPE typically includes special education support services identified through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and respective goals. An IEP team creates educational goals and monitoring mechanisms that are, at least, reviewed annually.

     Of course, parent and school collaboration should be sought first to ensure a students’ receipt of FAPE, but when it is questionable and negotiations and collaboration seem to fail or fall short, parents (and school districts) can seek balance with a due process hearing.  A complaint is filed with the Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR) following which a hearing officer is assigned to the case who will hear the matter as presented by plaintiff and defendant’s attorneys.

     The hearing officer will decide whether a child has received FAPE or decide other issues before setting out an Order outlining actions to be taken by all parties to remedy the situation. The child’s best interest is at the core of the decision.

S. H.’s Story
S. H. never saw herself as a disabled student needing the “special education.” A Lower Merion school psychologist said she did after an education evaluated. Diagnosed with a specific learning disability, her mom was told she needed specially designed instruction and a special education. Trusting the school psychologist as the expert, like so many parents do, Mom ignored S. H.’s cries that she was not disabled or needing special education.

After the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia took this case to a due process hearing, an independent evaluation revealed that S. H. in fact never had a learning disability.  S. H. was exited out of special education two years ago. The District stands by its diagnosis and continues to challenge S. H. in court.

S. H. will enter a four-year university in September with fear and trepidation set off by spending hundreds of hours seeking an appropriate education in the resource room and low-level, modified academic courses.  However, all bets are on S. H. that her wisdom as a child will serve her well as a college student.

R. C.’s Story
He wants to be a professional football player when he grows up, settling for long-boarding now. His parents insist on designing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to prepare him to succeed in a NCAA Division I, II or III university.

R. C. did not receive a Free Appropriate Public Education while attending Welsh Valley Middle School, according to the hearing officer who decided in his favor after hearing days of evidence put forth by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and District attorneys. The lawsuit unearthed some of what is wrong with LMSD special education.

School administrators typically substitute social studies, science and language courses for special education ones. While awaiting the federal Court’s decision on the Districts’ appeal, R. C. is setting a precedent at the middle school by attending all core content courses, including a language course. He is recovering from a lack of FAPE.

A. G.’s Story
A. G. is a beautiful and bright young adult who like S. H. was misdiagnosed as disabled by a Lower Merion school psychologist, according to outside expert evaluators.  In A. G.’s case, the school psychologist diagnosed her as having a specific learning disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder “like” symptoms. In her senior year and as a result of a due process hearing, A. G. learned more than she ever knew about why she was placed in instructional support lab classes. Her parents learned of her ADHD diagnosis for the first time at the hearing and were immediately alarmed and concerned that school staff were aware for years and treated A. G. with low expectations and as disabled.
Due to graduate as a senior, A. G. had little time to compensate for a lack of rigorous or honor-level courses that would have adequately prepared her to succeed post secondarily. While she continues to consider career options her case is on-going in federal court.

Lower Merion captures many Black students on secret laptop surveillance, Williams and Hasan took it to court

Many Black students captured by secret school laptop surveillance, these two did something about it

In 2010, the nation and international community learned that Lower Merion School District high school students were issued laptops with surveillance capabilities and many unsuspecting students had photographs and web camera shots taken of them, friends and family members by District staff; many shots of students in private settings and circumstances. The Robbins family pursued a class action lawsuit to address the surveillance of their son, Blake; eventually winning the lawsuit against the school district and receiving a $175,000 settlement. The community got massive computer policy and practice reform to the District’s one-to-one laptop program. At least nine of the 36 surveillance students were African American. Feeling horrifically violated, two filed lawsuits against the District.

Keron Williams v. LMSD
Keron neither lost his laptop nor told school authorities of it missing as was reported by the District during the Robbins v. Lower Merion School District lawsuit. Keron was among the students who had secret, remote photographs and screenshots taken of them. Yes, he saw the green light come on his laptop many times but casted his suspicions aside as unwarranted paranoia, never suspecting he was being studied by school staff or that nearly 1,000 photographs and screenshots were taken--many while he was in his bedroom.

Keron was 16 years old, enrolled in honors courses and doing well, never a school discipline problem, had perfect attendance, and had been recently awarded the Boy Scouts of America’s highest ranking honor as an Eagle Scout.

At first, Keron thought he could emotionally handle the violation but then realized he struggled to live with an invasion and assault on his sensibilities and reputation, not to mention he did not lose the computer or report it stolen. Keron’s family suspects that the district spied on Keron with motivations that had nothing to do with losing a computer. Around the time of the surveillance, Keron was escorted by campus police to the principal’s office and told to empty his pockets and his backpack contents were checked. Finding nothing but his Boy Scout Eagle scarf in his pockets and little else in the backpack besides school related stuff, he was allowed to return to class. He would learn later that a white female student complained that a black male with a hoodie and a skateboard took a something belonging to her.  Whether an actual item was taken from this young lady or not, Keron was wrongfully suspected. Then the surveillance camera was turned on and stayed on for months Robbins lawsuit forced its termination. The story ends with a lawsuit filed against the District and a settlement dollar amount that was a drop in the bucket compared to the Robbins’s receipt of $175,000 or the trauma.

Jalil Hasan v. LMSD
Shortly after graduating from Lower Merion High School in 2010, Jalil and his mother filed a civil suit against the Lower Merion School District. Jalil forgot his computer in a classroom on a Friday and received it back on a Monday. Yet the remote surveillance was made active and left running for weeks and 469 photos and 543 screen shots later. They included bedroom shots and pics of family and friends.

Fatima Hassan, Jalil’s mother seen here in photo with him, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she relocated to Lower Merion for its reputable schools, “I sent Jalil to Lower Merion High with the idea that he would be in a safe environment, and that’s what you care about most as a parent. But then, when I’m looking at these pictures and I’m looking at these snapshots, I’m feeling like, ‘Where did I send my child?’” Both the Hasans and Robbinses’ where represented by Mark Haltzman. Jalil received a settlement amount of $10,000 and Mr. Haltzman received about $419,000 for both plaintiff’s legal fees to be paid by the school district and its insurance carriers

African American students vs. Lower Merion School District in due process hearings

Due Process Hearings/Settlements through the Office of Dispute Resolution often involve extensive litigation, mediation, or settlement under the Individuals with Disability Education Act . These lawsuits are hard fought and won matters, often indicating a deficit in special education services and programming for children. Listed below are mentioned 12 African American students, 3 more on page 7, who took issue with the LMSD and prevailed on some or all claims. Their names are initialed for their protection.
J. W. - Prevailing party, compensatory education awarded. LMSD appealed, federal court decided in students’ favor to enforce hearing officer’s decision.
B. D. - Prevailing party, in part.
S. L.- Case appealed by District, on-going.
C. H.- Prevailing Party, compensatory education award. Student taking remedial college courses, LMSD paid
A. B.- Prevailing Party, compensatory education award. College graduate and employed with recent promotion.
G. J. - Prevailing Party, compensatory education award.
A. L - Case Settled with compensatory education award. Student enrolled in rigorous remedial tutoring.
M. J.- Case Settled, student placed at private school, LMSD paid
K. R. - Prevailing Party, compensatory education award
K. J.  - Prevailing Party, Parents selected out-of-state placement, LMSD paid.
Q. G. - Prevailing Party, awarded compensatory education. Attending college.
S. M. - Prevailing party, by settlement

Blunt et al. vs. LMSD Update

Now in appeal to the Third Circuit Court, seven plaintiffs remain and plead with the federal court to allow a lawsuit to move forward before trial by jury in a five-year old civil rights case against one of Pennsylvania’s wealthiest ($200+ million for 7,300 students), highest academic achieving school districts.

Once upon a time there were nine plaintiffs, two organizations (Concerned Black Parents and the NAACP Main Line Branch) and the matter was a class action lawsuit with racial discrimination and special education/disability charges lodged against the Lower Merion School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Interestingly, the judge in the Blunt et al. v. Lower Merion School District was born and raised in Lower Merion. His family has been very influential in the politics of the community for decades. However, the Third Circuit justices have no ties to Lower Merion leaving plaintiffs to pray for justice and a reversal back to an opportunity to be heard by a jury trial who should decide the outcome of this reform seeking case

DOEs vs. LMSD Supreme Court refuses to hear the case

Nine African American families were less interested in busing their children four miles away because their predominant white community valued diversity at their expense than sending them to their community high school that is within walking distance.

In 2008, the Lower Merion School District welcomed the newly hired Dr. Christopher McGinley with the task of redistricting for the sake of equalizing two new “world class” high schools. The balancing act meant more than filling each school with 1,200 students, it devolved into denying the families decades-old rights to choose which of the two township high schools to send their children to and a class action lawsuit against the school district. 

The District said race was not a factor in their decision to redistrict students residing in one of the township’s densely African American sections. The evidence showed otherwise and the lower Court agreed but said it was not illegal to use race to redistrict. The Does lost an appeal to the Third Circuit Court. After a three-year battle, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

10 years and $2 billion into NCLB, PSSA scores drop for all races even as LMSD's nagging achievement gap remains wide open

A little known but highly felt by students fact about the Lower Merion School District (LMSD) is that its students are subject to more than 50 standardized, benchmark, or diagnostic tests by the time they graduate; not just the federally mandated PSSA alone.  These assessments are to inform instructional practice and curriculum development while driving all students along a pathway to reading and mathematics proficiency by 2014.  Even with a relatively small student population of 7,300+ and revenue totaling over $2 billion since the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, 100% mathematics and reading proficiency is a mandate still to be met and PSSA gains are on the decline across the school district.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, also known as PSSA, measures a students’ strengths and weaknesses and reveals how well they have achieved in reading, mathematics, science and writing according to Pennsylvania’s academic standards.  Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measures how well a school district performs annually at educating its students to a level of proficiency and above in core content areas. The measures are tied to state academic standards, which can be viewed at

Alarmingly, the PA Dept. of Education’s 2011 Academic Achievement Report indicates decreases in reading and math proficiency at nearly every level and for all students regardless of race, income, or ability, especially on the middle and high school levels. Read the report for yourself and study the data in this newsletter.    (Source:

Should Lower Merion residents settle for less or demand more of school staff or something different? Without fail, LMSD makes AYP goals every year despite its underachievement as a “District” for disaggregated student groups. Its aggregate and disaggregated school-by-school PSSA scores speak to the inadequacies and safety nets allowed by the PA Dept. Compared to most school districts, the District is strong academically on many fronts, but the ones NCLB intends to eradicate.

Money matters for LMSD. Taxpayers provided LMSD with more than two billion education designated dollars over the past decade. Taxpayers rarely complain about annual school tax bills that rise every year without fail, at least not openly (except when it hit double-digits a few years ago).

Academic achievement scores on the down-tick with abundant resources that include $2 billion over a decade, more than $200 million per year, 35% of all eligible public school students attend private schools relieving the district of educating an entire community, parents pay thousands for tutoring and enrichment, the school superintendent and “highly-qualified” teachers are among the highest paid in the nation, the Strategic Plan addresses achievement and wholistic well-being, laptops and iPads abound, millions are paid to purchase new curriculum materials in all core content areas, and on and on.

Marva Collins, the great educator, refused to allow students to leave her class with empty or half-filled minds or for excuses to enter. That’s a standard for high quality education.

Lower Merion & Narberth community members, brave an imperative call to turn right-side what’s wrong with public education.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What does being a good citizen mean to you as it relates to public education?

Human resources...teachers, administrators, special education teachers, school librarians, guidance counselors, tutors, mentors, volunteers, parents, and community members; so, what does good citizenship mean to you as it pertains to supporting academic achievement of publicly educated students?

We face an abundance of public school challenges.

Academic achievement is not all about money...really, it's not. Take a look at the Lower Merion School District who has nearly $30,000 per student to spend on educating all students yet there's been a significant achievement gap since the No Child Left Behind legislation.

Talk to me.