The Limits of Free Speech For Teachers

As a teacher-blogger myself, I’m quite aware that while my First Amendment freedoms are absolute, my “right” to a teaching job isn’t.  For this reason I self-censor to a small degree–for example, I don’t publish posts highly critical of my district or its officers, and when I do, I try to stick to facts and not suppositions.  “Unprofessional conduct” is a gray area, indeed.

I would have to agree with the University of Hawaii, the trial court, and the 9th Circuit (not something I do often!), and conclude that the potential risk to students outweighed this potential teacher’s job training:

A federal appeals court last week ruled that the University of Hawaii was within its rights to deny permission to a candidate for teacher certification to participate in a required student teaching program based on his statements on adult-child sex and on schoolchildren with disabilities.

Mark Oyama — who had a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the time — met the academic requirements in the teacher certification program. But the university found that his statements against bans on adult-child sex and that most special education students were “fakers” made him unsuitable to become a teacher. Oyama sued in federal court, charging that the university violated his First Amendment rights. A lower court rejected his suit, and the appeals court upheld that decision.

In doing so, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said its decision was based primarily on case law about the role colleges and universities play in certifying teachers, and the role of higher education in professional certification. The court stressed that it did not want to act in a way that would limit academic freedom or the right of students to express controversial views. In this case, the appeals court found, the university’s decision was based on national professional standards and specific job requirements for teachers, and thus was constitutional.

Clearly such a ruling, and even the limits it recognizes, could be abused–recall the University of Missouri “litmus test” for social workers, for example.  I understand the ruling in the Hawaii case, but guarding against litmus tests for the “wrong” views will require eternal vigilance.

Do special-ed kids need teacher-cams?

Credit: LA Johnson/NPR

Texas will require schools to videotape classrooms with special-ed students, if a parent or teacher requests it.

The law applies to any self-contained classroom in which at least half the students receive special-ed services for at least half the day, reports NPR.

Last year, an NBC-5 investigation exposed “calm rooms” — padded closets — at some North Texas schools.

Some of these rooms had cameras. In one cringe-worthy video recording, a teacher forced an 8-year-old boy with autism inside a room, forced him to the floor and held the door shut despite his protests.

Parents protested. State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Texas, sponsored legislation to “give a voice to someone who could not speak up when they were abused at school.” He says videotaping also will protect teachers from false accusations.

It’s not clear how many cameras will be required or how much it will cost to record and store footage.

If one parent requests camera, other students’ parents can’t block the videotaping.

District not liable for drug sting arrests

Riverside County (California) schools aren’t responsible for a drug sting that targeted special ed students, a Superior Court judge has ruled. Judge Raquel A. Marquez dismissed a 2013 suit brought by Jesse Snodgrass, reports Jane Meredith Adams in EdSource.

After his expulsion was reversed, Jesse Snodgrass was graduated from Chaparral High.

After his expulsion was reversed, Jesse Snodgrass completed high school.

Snodgrass was a 17-year-old with autism and bipolar disorder when he was befriended and manipulated by an undercover sheriff’s deputy, the suit alleged. “Dan” sent 60 text messages asking him to buy marijuana.

He was arrested on felony drug charges and expelled. Later, citing extenuating circumstances, a judge gave Snodgrass six months of probation. An administrative law judge overturned the expulsion, saying that Snodgrass “has overwhelmingly demonstrated that his actions were a manifestation of his disability.”

A 2014 Rolling Stone story, The Entrapment of Jesse Snodgrass, and a Vice Media video, The War on Kids, “launched a barrage of negative publicity” that persuaded local school districts to stop authorizing drug stings, writes Adams.

Putting the ‘special’ in special ed

Special education teacher Chris Ulmer spends 10 minutes every morning by complimenting each of his eight students at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. Does he find something new to say every day?

You can see more on Ulmer’s Special Books by Special Kids Facebook page.

Disabled son was pushed out of district school

Beth Hawkins’ autistic son was pushed out of his district school in Minneapolis — and embraced by a charter, she writes on Real Clear Education.

According to Hillary Clinton, “Most charter schools . . . don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.” District schools “do, thankfully, take everybody,” the candidate said at a forum.

Beth and Corey Hawkins

Beth and Corey Hawkins

Any school — district or charter — can “push out” a problem student, writes Hawkins, an education writer.

When a student’s needs are too hard to meet, a school may “discipline the student often and loudly, until the parent gets the message,” or send the student to an alternative school. Some segregate problem students in special ed programs or “flat-out tell students, ‘This might not be the school for you’.”

The district school thought her son’s problems stemmed from his “bad attitude.” She thought his “good” school was bad for him.

Her 13-year-old son now attends Venture Academy, a blended-learning charter. “Students create their own learning plans, choosing what they find interesting from a menu of online and bricks-and-mortar options,” writes Hawkins.

A few days into the school year, the charter’s social worker called to say her son “had done something tough with aplomb.” His teachers “wanted my input on how to reinforce the victory going forward.”

“It was the first time the call was about playing to his strengths,” Hawkins writes. “It was the first time I was called on as the expert on my own child.”

Charters close special-ed gap

Charters are closing the special-education gap with district schools and are more likely to mainstream special-ed students, according to an analysis by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.

District schools classify 12.55 percent of students as needing special education, compared to 10.42 percent in charter schools. That gap is shrinking.

Charter students with disabilities are far more likely to spend their school day in maisntream classrooms.

Charters may not serve as many severely disabled students who require a separate class, said Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director of NCSECS. Inclusion also is more practical for small schools.

“If you’re in a huge district, you might pool resources and put all the kids with disability A in this school, but if you’re a single charter school operating as its own district, you can’t do that,” said Morando Rhim. “So you’re going to figure out how to integrate them in their program versus creating a distinct program.”

Charter and district schools suspend and expel students with disabilities at about the same rate, according to the report. In both sectors, students with disabilities are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students.

The report also identified 115 charters that focus on serving disabled students.

‘Pay for success’ preschool gains are iffy


Students in a preschool program in Utah meant to help kindergartners avoid special education. Credit: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

A  “pay for success” preschool program in Utah helped 99 percent of high-risk children avoid special education in kindergarten, Salt Lake County officials announced last month. Investors who bought “social-impact bonds” to fund the program received a $260,000 payout, representing a share of the district’s savings on special education. They’ll get more in coming years, potentially making a profit.

Results are too good to be true, early-education experts tell the New York Times.

Even well-funded preschool programs — and the Utah program was not well funded — have been found to reduce the number of students needing special education by, at most, 50 percent. Most programs yield a reduction of closer to 10 or 20 percent.

It’s either “a miracle, or these kids weren’t in line for special education in the first place,” said Clive Belfield, an economics professor who studies early childhood education.

It seems clear that “miracle” is not the right answer.

The school district used a picture and vocabulary test called the PPVT to screen the incoming preschoolers. Those who scored below 70 — 30 to 40 percent of children over three years — were labeled likely to need special education.

“To just assume that all these children would have gone to special education is kind of ridiculous,” said Ellen S. Peisner-Feinberg, a senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

The test rarely is used to screen for disabilities, especially when used alone. Furthermore, 30 to 50 percent of the preschoolers may have scored poorly because they were not fluent in English.

Kentucky, Georgia top NAEP Dishonor Roll 

Kentucky, Georgia and Maryland top Dropout Nation’s NAEP Dishonor Roll 2015 for excluding high percentages of special education and English Learner students from testing.

The U.S. Department of Education requires districts and states to test 95 percent of students and 85 percent of special ed and EL students. Some states are out of compliance.

naep_reading_2015_special_ed_eighthgrade_exclusion

Dropout Nation also looks at cities that exclude high percentages of special ed and EL students.

Washington D.C. Public Schools, which won praise for rising NAEP scores, “excluded as many as 44 percent of ELL fourth- and eighth-graders” from the reading exam, reports RiShawn Biddle.

Dallas “excluded 44 percent of fourth-grade kids in special ed, leading in that category, and ranked second behind the notorious Baltimore City school system (36 percent), by excluding 29 percent of eighth-graders who were special ed and had other disabilities,” reports Dropout Nation.

Autistic girl joins Sesame Street

A muppet with autism is joining the Sesame Street family, though she’s not scheduled to appear on TV yet.

Unlike most children diagnoses with autism spectrum disorders, Julia is a girl, notes the LA Times. One in 42 boys have autism, compared to 1 in 189 girls — meaning about five times more boys than girls are diagnosed with autism.

“We’re trying to eliminate misconceptions, and a lot of people think that only boys have autism,” said Sherrie Westin, Sesame’s executive vice president, global impact and philanthropy.

Julia stars in a “digital storybook,” We’re Amazing, 1,2,3. She’s is introduced as a long-time friend of Elmo.

In one scene, as she swings with Elmo, Elmo introduces her to his friend Abby. But Julia keeps swinging and doesn’t look in Abby’s direction, prompting Abby to say, “your friend doesn’t like me.”

But that’s not true, Elmo responds. “It’s just hard for her to talk when she’s swinging,” he explains.

Julia flaps her hands when she’s excited, takes a long time to answer questions, is alarmed by loud noises and knows all the words to songs.

Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children includes videos about autism; cards that use Sesame characters to teach basic skills to children with autism (such as “Elmo goes potty”) and overviews on “being a friend,” “brothers and sisters,” “see the amazing,” and “what to say to a parent of a child with autism.”

Carnival of Homeschooling

The new Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Notes From a Homeschooled Mom.

Happy Elf Mom writes about homeschooling an autistic child.